Planets Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn to align in cosmic treat for skywatchers. This way you can spot them
Skywatchers are in for a cosmic treat this month: a rare alignment of four planets in the early morning sky.
As of Sunday morning, stargazers can see Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn appear in a straight line in the southeastern sky before sunrise.
The mid-month alignment is a relatively unusual opportunity for people to see multiple planets in the sky with the naked eye — and it’s a prelude to an even rarer planetary alignment set to take place later this year.
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To see the planetary quartet, skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere need to step outside about an hour before sunrise and gaze southeast toward the light.
Looking east at a flat horizon, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn will “appear in a line in the morning sky,” according to NASA.
If conditions are clear, all four planets will be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye without binoculars or telescopes.
Sky chart showing the close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter before sunrise on April 30. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
In the Southern Hemisphere, the sun’s path in the sky is at a steeper angle to the horizon compared to the Northern Hemisphere, meaning the array of planets will unfold higher above the point of sunrise.
The same alignment is visible before sunrise in the Northern Hemisphere.
In either case, Jupiter will be the second-brightest planet in the celestial gathering but will appear lowest on the horizon, making it tricky to see. That will change in the month, according to NASA.
“In the last week of April, in the hour before sunrise, Jupiter will be high enough above the horizon for it to be easier to observe,” the space agency said in its monthly overview of skywatching tips.
The Ursa Major is an asterism – a well-known pattern of stars – within the Ursa Major constellation. Credit: Preston Dyches/NASA
While this month’s skywatching event may make it look like the planets are forming a neat line in space, it’s just a matter of perspective.
Every planet in the solar system orbits the sun in the same flat plane, meaning that as they swing past each other in their orbits, they appear to form a straight line in Earth’s sky.
However, this neat positioning would look very different from any other vantage point in space.
The planets will be visible in the morning sky all month, and April’s alignment will set the stage for an even more spectacular skywatching event this winter.
From late June to early July, five planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn — will be visible in the sky before sunrise in a major alignment that occurs every few years.