Five planets visible in morning sky through February

For the first time in over 10 years, five planets are visible from Earth together at one time. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter can be seen in the early morning, about 45 minutes before the sun rises.

These planets will be visible until February 20, but the best time to see all of them at their most visible are the first two weeks of February. The reason we can see them all is the current alignment of the planets, or an “‘ecliptic’ plane of their orbits,” according to Jim Green, the planetary science division director at NASA. An ecliptic is when the path of the Sun’s motion on the celestial sphere is seen from Earth. What this means in regards to the five planets is, since they orbit on a similar plane as the Earth does around the sun, they appear to be lined up in the early morning sky.

Biology teacher Ms. Tara Jennings says, “The chance to see five planets at once is a neat opportunity. The clear, dark skies of winter will provide an excellent viewing. These planets are so bright and easy to spot, and the moon will also be out as a guide for the next week or so. I was able to see four of the planets from the warmth of my home so some people can try that if they have a clear view from their windows. Seeing planets that are millions of miles away from us reminds us of the vastness of space and our own position in the universe.”

According to the New York Times, Jason Kendall from the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York says, “For Mercury, you will need binoculars. It will not jump out at you, but everybody should be able to see Venus and Jupiter.” He also says that Mercury will become more visible around February 5 or 6.

While being able to see the planets aligned has not happened in a decade, they will be in alignment again in August 2016. Mia Walsh-Serpico ’17 says, “I really wish I was able to wake up early enough in the morning to see this rare occurrence, but I am glad it will be happening again in August, and I’ll make a better effort to wake up early and see the planets.”

While you may not be a typical star gazer, a sight that is as rare as this one is not one that should be missed. There is no particular astronomical significance to the five planets lining up like this, but it is still something exciting to see.second plants in alignment

Image sources: Elephant Journal and Sky and Telescope, reprinted by WBUR’s Here and Now.

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