Monday, July 22, 2024

When and how to see the expected alignment of the planets in the sky

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(CNN) — An upcoming “parade of planets” will feature six planets lined up in the sky near dawn, but only three will be visible to the naked eye, and this phenomenon is more common than it seems.

“You’ll be able to see Mars, Saturn and Jupiter,” explains James O’Donoghue, a planetary astronomer and researcher at the University of Reading, UK. “If you have binoculars and know where to look, you can probably see Uranus, but there’s no point in waiting until almost dawn. Bottom line, you can only see half of the planets in this planetary alignment with the naked eye.”

The best day to watch the show in Europe and North America is Sunday, about half an hour before sunrise, according to O’Donoghue. If you target that time period, you’ll also have a chance to see Mercury, although that may not be easy even with binoculars, he said.

“The problem is that the sun will light up the sky in that area,” O’Donoghue added. “It’s just before dawn, but it will still be very bright in the sky, and you probably don’t want to point your binoculars too close to the sun either.”

If you have a telescope, it will help, especially if you hope to see Uranus and Neptune. “But in order to see it, you have to get so close to one target that you can’t see the others, so you’ll throw out the entire field of view,” he explains.

The order in which the planets will line up on Sunday is Jupiter, Mercury, Uranus, Mars, Neptune, and Saturn, and they will be accompanied by a crescent moon. Later Thursday, the moon will no longer be visible in the sky, reducing light pollution, according to O’Donoghue, and Mercury will have swapped positions with Jupiter.

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The alignment will be visible to skywatchers around the world, but the ideal date for viewing the planets in their closest alignment may vary. Depending on where you are in the world.

Planetary alignment: what you should know

It is important to note that this alignment does not occur in space, but in the sky as we see it from our planet.

“From the perspective of someone on Earth looking up at the sky, there would appear to be an almost straight line of the planets, which is what we might call a planetary alignment or planetary width,” explains Professor Dr Kate Patel. From the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London.

“But physically speaking there’s no alignment going on. It’s just that most of the planets are more or less on the same side of the sun at that time. If the planets aligned in space, they would produce a conjunction, which is a much smaller phenomenon.” “Frequently,” he adds.

In fact, this type of planetary alignment is not uncommon at all. “There will be more in the coming years, because exoplanets move in the sky more slowly because they are farther away from us, creating many more opportunities for these types of alignments to occur,” Patel said. “In fact, an even better event will likely happen next February, when we will have all the planets in the sky at the same time, including Venus, which is not on this planet.”

Patel recommends that Monday, about an hour before sunrise, is the best chance to see the spectacle in most parts of the world, and he is most optimistic about the possibility of Mercury joining the group of planets visible without instruments.

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“Mercury is usually visible with the naked eye if you are in a place with little light pollution, but it is better with binoculars because (the planet) is not particularly bright and can only be seen shortly before dawn,” he said.

An app like Stellarium Mobile or Night Sky can be helpful if you’re not sure where to look, and it’s best to be somewhere with little light pollution and a low horizon, because Jupiter, Mercury, and Uranus won’t be there. Patel explains very loudly.

“You should also try to be in a place with a good view to the east, because it will be roughly in the direction of the sunrise and the moon,” Patel explains. “Other planets are not easy to spot, but they don’t twinkle like stars do, so this is one way to find them.”

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