You don’t have to believe in divine timing to enjoy the rare planetary alignment twinkling in the morning sky from now until around February 20th. If weather conditions permit, early risers will be rewarded with an amazing naked-eye view of five planets—six if you count the one you’re standing on—as the natural orbits of Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter appear to “line up” when viewed from Earth.
The show starts with Jupiter rising in the late evening, followed by Mars becoming visible shortly after midnight. During the course of the early morning hours, Saturn, then Venus and finally, Mercury will all be visible together between 6:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. local time. Look in the southern quadrant of the sky to see the planets span from southeast to southwest.
From January 23 to February 7 Earth’s moon will join the dance, seemingly trading partners as it first appears on the right of Jupiter, then pops up near Mars and Saturn. On February 6th the moon, Mercury and brilliant Venus will appear to form a triangle before sunrise.
The quintet last appeared ten years ago when the dazzling nighttime show ran from December 2004 through January 2005. An encore performance should be visible for a few weeks starting late-July, 2016, but major players Mercury and Venus won’t be easily spotted from northern latitudes.
NASA’S Director of Planetary Science Division, Jim Green, reminds us that the lineup symbolizes how far the exploration of our solar system has come. In a NASA blog about the planetary event, Green says “NASA spacecraft have visited each one of the five planets that we will be able to see over the next few weeks, as well as Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. We can be proud that American curiosity, technology and determination are helping us unlock many mysteries about our solar system.”