Rare alignment of five planets to dazzle the night sky

Rare alignment of five planets to dazzle the night sky

Rare alignment of five planets to dazzle the night sky

We had the strawberry supermoon earlier this month, the summer solstice on June 21, and now we’re being treated to an exciting planetary alignment.

The last time the planets aligned in a similar way was in 2004, and it won’t happen again until 2040, so it’s worth catching a glimpse if you can.

One of the best things about this planetary alignment is its brightness. In clear skies, it should even be visible from towns and villages, and you need an unobstructed view of the eastern and southern horizons.

But when exactly can you see these planets perform their majestic arrangement? And in which constellations will each of the planets appear? The answers to these questions, and more, can be found below.

If you’re looking forward to making the most of clear nights this year, why not plan ahead with our full Moon UK calendar and astronomy for beginners guide? There are also many more meteor showers that will light up the sky in 2022, including the Perseids, Orionids and Geminids. We’ve listed them all in this handy meteor shower calendar.

Which planets can I see?

The five bright planets will be visible to the naked eye, and rather exciting to stargazers, will appear in the same order as in their orbits around the sun.

From the east-northeast horizon, looking to the right, you can see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn with the naked eye. If you have good binoculars or a telescope, you may also be able to catch a glimpse of Uranus between Venus and the moon, although it’s hard to see, and the conditions must be nearly pristine for this.

A waning crescent moon joins the celebration from June 23-25, marking Earth’s relative position between Venus and Mars. From June 26, the Moon begins to move closer to the horizon, appearing to be moving backwards through the planetary arrangement, first past Venus and then Mercury before disappearing below the horizon to the left of the planets.

The planetary alignment as seen at 4:10 a.m. on June 24, 2022 © NASA/ESA/ESO/Space Telescope Science Institute/IAU Minor Planet Center/Fabien Chereau/Noctua Software

When can I see the planetary alignment?

You’ll need to get up early to see this planetary parade at its best, about an hour before sunrise on the morning of June 23-24, 2022, when Mercury rises above the horizon.

The best time to see the planets aligned is between 3:39 AM and sunrise at 4:43 AM on the morning of June 24, 2022.

Saturn will appear as the first of the planets, rising above the horizon just before midnight. Saturn’s rings contribute to its brightness (and therefore our ability to see it with the naked eye), and like much in astronomy, the appearance of Saturn’s rings is cyclical. As seen from Earth, the planet is gradually becoming more edge-on, and will be fully edge-on by 2025. During the planetary lineup in 2022, Saturn will appear in its classic view with its northern hemisphere tilted toward us, and the rings clearly visible through a telescope, sitting between the constellations Aquarius and Capricorn.

Jupiter will rise next, around 1:07 AM in the early morning of June 24. It will shine brightly, more than twice as bright as Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, and will be in the constellation of Pisces.

Next, Mars will rise around 1:37 a.m., and you’ll be able to recognize it by its distinctive orange-yellow hue. Mars will join Jupiter in the constellation of Pisces.

Venus will be the penultimate of the planets rising at 3:03 AM and becoming the brightest member of the lineup. Venus will be in the constellation of Taurus, and on a clear night you may also be able to see the Pleiades star cluster above it.

Mercury is the fifth and final planet to participate in the celestial hurrah, which begins to peek above the horizon from 3:39 a.m. The minor planet will join Venus in Taurus and stay close to the horizon until sunrise at 4:43 AM wipes all the planets out of the sky.

In the coming months, the planets will spread out and the line will disintegrate.

The planetary alignment as seen at 4:10 a.m. on June 24, 2022, shows the planets in relation to the constellations © NASA/ESA/ESO/Space Telescope Science Institute/IAU Minor Planet Center/Fabien Chereau/Noctua Software

When were the planets last aligned?

It’s not uncommon to see two or three planets in the night sky, but these types of planetary alignments are quite rare. Because of the orientation and tilt of their orbits, the eight major planets of the solar system can never align perfectly. The last time they even appeared in the same part of the sky was more than 1,000 years ago, in AD 949, and they won’t get it back together until May 6, 2492.

Fortunately, about every half century, the brightest planets move into positions in the night sky, giving the impression of being (more or less) in a straight line.

We witnessed a pretty nice planetary arrangement earlier this year, but the planets were not arranged in order. The last time the fab lined up five was in March 2004 (although Jupiter and Saturn were the ‘wrong’ way) and won’t be realigned this way until August 2040. Although they will appear closer together in 2040, it will be harder to spot Mercury because it will be closer to the sun in the morning sky.

How will planetary alignment affect me?

If you’re concerned about the gravitational effects of such an alignment, have no fear. The extra gravitational pull on the Earth is negligible. However, certain alignments are helpful. In the 1970s, NASA used a special alignment of the planets to send space probes on a “grand tour” of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune with minimal effort. Such an alignment only occurs once every 175 years. Fortunately, it came just after NASA scientists figured out how to use it.

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