solar system
Photo by paulista/Shutterstock.com

Five planets visible in early morning sky for first time in a decade

Share This Story!

If you find yourself up before dawn in the next few weeks, pull on some warm clothes, step outside, and look up—if the sky is clear enough, you’ll be rewarded with a rare celestial show.

Over the next month or so, five of the solar system’s planets will be visible  at once. Save for the timing and temperature, it will be just like the summer stargazing you do off the end of your dock, when all you need is a clear sky away from light pollution. That’s right, without even using a telescope, you’ll be able to see Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter, all lined up in a brightly lit diagonal row. Only the most distant planets—Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto—will be out of sight.

If you don’t get the chance to see it this week, don’t fret. According to The Weather Network, the planet parade will be visible well into February, and it will actually be easier to see with time, since the planets will get higher in the sky each day.

The planets movement from January 20 to 31, 2016. (Photo by Stellarium, with labels added by S. Sutherland.)

The display takes place just before dawn, which is typically the coldest time of our already frigid winter days, but it’s worth bundling up for—especially since it’s the first time this has happened in more than a decade. The last time these planets were visible to the naked eye at once was January 2005.

You can start by looking for Venus, which will be in the southeast sky, just above the horizon. As the image above depicts, it’s the brightest of them all,  only second to the moon. Jupiter is the second-brightest, though you’ll have to look southwest to find it. Once you’ve seen either end of the row, the others become a little easier to pick out. But the real tricky one is Mercury—due to its close proximity to the sun, it could get lost in the glare of the sunrise. For that one, it might be best to wait a few days for them to rise.

But if you’re more into skywatching in summer—and we don’t blame you if you are—there’s good news. The five planets are supposed to show up in the evening sky later this summer. According to EarthSky.org, they should be visible from August 13 to 19, 2016. If you do wait, however, there’s less of a chance you’ll get to see all five; Mercury and Venus will be low in the west sky, which means they’ll be a lot more difficult to spot.

To learn more about what to look for, check out EarthSky.org’s “January 2016 guide to the five visible planets.

More From Cottage Life: