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Astronomy

Four Planets Dance in the Early Morning Sky

By travel
5/08/2011, 6:09:51 AM

This coming week, four bright planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter) are low in the eastern sky before dawn. This is the tightest grouping of bright planets that has occurred yet in the 21st century. Every morning just before sunrise, these four planets combine to form fascinating patterns that change.

To see this unusual sky show, you’ll need to find a spot with a completely unobstructed eastern horizon and try to get away from major sources of light pollution.

Those in the Southern Hemisphere can watch the celestial dance with unaided eyes, but in the mid-northern latitudes where the Lower 48 is located, you will need binoculars or a small telescope to appreciate it properly. Go outside 45 minutes before sunrise and scan the eastern horizon until you find a planet. You’re sure to spot either Venus or Jupiter first, because these are by far the brightest of the four.

During the mornings up to the 15th, Venus and Jupiter, together with much fainter Mercury, create a remarkable triangle in the sky. Mercury is the 3rd-brightest planet in the grouping and quite low in the sky. Mercury will slowly move away from Venus each morning. “Even though Mercury would rival the brightest stars in a dark sky, you’ll likely to need binoculars to spot it (because of how bright the other two planets are),” notes Sky & Telescope senior editor Alan MacRobert.


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Astronomy