If you don’t have any scientific equipment with which to gaze at the stars, then tonight, Tuesday night, will be the best day to see five planets.
That moment will come about twenty to 30 minutes after sunset this evening. Then, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Uranus will align and will be visible to the naked eye. While they will remain close together and the grouping will still be able to be seen for the next few weeks, tonight is the best night.
Such is what Cameron Hummels, a computational astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, told CNN.
He said that such alignments as this one appear every few years and that it will both be visible in the Northern and Southern hemispheres and that it will be visible to the naked eye even in areas with significant light pollution.
Hummels added that the alignment of the five planets will be visible just underneath the crescent moon and cover about 70 degrees of the night sky. He said that, to measure the 70 degrees, use your fist and thumb: a fist at arm’s length covers about ten degrees and a thumb covers about one degree. That’s just a rough estimation, but should help with trying to find where the planets are and across what spread of the sky they are in.
What time should you go out to look? Just after sunset, head to a spot with a good view of the western horizon. Then, when the sky is a dark blue but not quite pitch black, the planets should be aligned. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, look slightly to your southwest to spot the planets.
The first one you should be able to spot is Venus, the brightest of the bunch. Uranus will be nearby it, though harder to spot without a telescope or binoculars if you’re in an area with significant light pollution.
Then, beneath those two are Jupiter and Mercury. They’ll be just above the Western horizon, though Mercury could be hard to spot as well, though Hummels added that you should be able to spot it.
Finally is Mars. It’s in a straight up from the line Maine by Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus, and the moon and should be able to be picked out thanks to its distinctive, reddish-orange glow.
Hummels wasn’t the only astronomer to speak about the upcoming alignment. NASA astronomer Bill Cooke, speaking about it to the Associated Press, said, “That’s the beauty of these planetary alignments. It doesn’t take much.” He added that, to spot Uranus, you should look for a greenish glow near Venus. He did say that both it and Mercury would be hard to spot without binoculars, particularly in areas with significant light pollution.
CNN, noting upcoming stellar phenomena, said:
Fascinating celestial phenomena often decorate the night sky, he added, such as when Jupiter and Venus appeared within half a degree of each other this month.
On October 14, sky watchers can expect to see a “ring of fire” eclipse. And, in April 2024, a total solar eclipse will blot out the sun midday for many in the United States.
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