5 planets to make rare alignment in early morning sky
By By Brian Lada, Meteorologist
January 26, 2016, 5:21:16 AM EST
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Early morning stargazers will be treated with a rare spectacle that hasn't occurred since 2005. Five planets, located closest to Earth, will align in the sky.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will all appear in the predawn sky from Jan. 20 to Feb. 20, giving people around the world plenty of opportunities to view the rare astronomical alignment.
The best time to view the quintet of planets will be an hour to an hour and a half before sunrise. Earlier than that, some of the planets will not be above the horizon and any later, the light from the sun will drown out the glimmer of the planets as daylight approaches.
Uranus and Neptune can also be seen during the first half of the night, but these planets are not visible with the naked eye and require the use of a telescope or binoculars to spot.
Venus is usually the easiest planet to spot when the skies are clear since it is the second brightest object in the night sky after the moon.
This bright planet can serve as a guide to finding Mercury, the dimmest of the five planets, and Saturn, the second dimmest.
While Mercury, Venus and Saturn are clustered over the southeastern horizon, Mars and Jupiter will be visible higher up in the sky to the south and southwest.
Those searching for Jupiter among the backdrop of countless stars should look to the southwest and search for the brightest object, as Jupiter is the second brightest planet after Venus.
While Mars may not be as bright as Jupiter, it does give off a faint red glow, helping to set it apart from the white speckles of far-away stars over the southern horizon.
The final days of January and first week of February may prove to be the best time to view the planetary alignment as the moon slowly slides across the sky, making a close approach to each of the five planets as it transitions from a full moon to a new moon.
This will serve as an excellent reference point for those who are having difficulties picking out some of the dimmer planets, such as Saturn.
If the chilly winter weather or early hour is a deterrent from waking up to view the celestial spectacle, an event later this year will bring another opportunity for viewing the five planets.
According to EarthSky, it will be possible to view Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the evening sky later this year from about Aug. 13 to Aug. 19.
This will provide stargazers with warmer weather for viewing the planets, as well as allowing them to sleep in and still see the quintet of planets.
However, Mercury and Venus will be sitting low in the sky, making them tougher to pick out during the summer months than during the winter months.
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