The moon leads a parade of planets across the sky before dawn this week. Italian astrophysicist Gianluca Massi captured the celestial parade in a stunning image taken from his balcony in Rome.
Advance of extraordinary Alignment of the five visible planets In the Solar System, four planets line up behind the moon like ducks in a row. Since April 23, Saturn, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter have all been visible above the horizon in the early morning hours of the Northern Hemisphere.
“This morning I was able to enjoy a planetary parade that includes Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn, plus the Moon. It was an amazing sight, and it was very easy to see all four planets,” Massey told Live Science in an email.
The night sky image is a prelude to a bigger planetary parade this summer, as Mercury will join the lineup in mid-June.
When the planets align
Planetary alignment occurs when the orbits of the planets bring them to the same region of the sky, when viewed from Earth. Such planetary alignments aren’t rare, but they don’t happen regularly either: The last time five planets lined up in the night sky was in 2020, and their alignment preceded them in 2016 and 2005.
This alignment takes time to develop. Venus, Mars, and Saturn have been neighbors in the night sky since late March. On the 4th and 5th of Aprilthey came close to each other, when they looked at it from Earth, Mars and Saturn appeared at a distance less than the width of the full moon in the southeast early morning sky.
Jupiter transformed triple into a quadrilateral in mid-April. Then the last quarter moon appeared to the right of Saturn on April 23. Mars appears as an orange dot below and to the left of Saturn, while Venus is a brighter light below and to the left of Mars. Jupiter is lowest and left in the sky.
The way to distinguish between planets and stars in the sky is by light, said Michelle Nichols, director of public observations at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
“The stars are shining,” Nichols told Live Science. “Planets don’t do that.”
Watch the alignment of the planets
The planets will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere 1 to 45 minutes before sunrise. The moon will remain above the horizon until April 29, but the four planets will remain in their cosmic line until early July. Mercury will appear in line as early as June 10 in places with a flat eastern horizon (think Denver or the oceanfront, North Carolina coast), resulting in the final alignment of five planets. The planets would appear to be traveling from east to south, Nichols said. Late June will provide the best viewing conditions for alignment.
Uranus and Neptune will also be in the northern hemisphere’s field of view during alignment. Uranus will be between Mercury and Mars and will be visible in areas free from light pollution. It might be possible to see it with the naked eye in a dark enough sky, Nichols said, but binoculars will help keep tabs on it. Neptune will require a telescope to view.
“It’s a great time to get out and watch the planets,” Nichols said.
Originally published on Live Science.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published on April 20, 2022, and was updated on April 26.
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