Rare alignment of planets to illuminate the night sky for the first time in over a thousand years
Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn will appear in a straight line in the southeastern sky just before Sunrise on Sunday.
The rare alignment of the four planets has not been seen in more than 1,000 years, since 947 AD.
Watch the video above to learn exactly how to catch this rare phenomenon
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“It’s rare to say that the planets align, and they do!” Australian National University astrophysicist and cosmologist Dr. Brad Tucker told Sunrise.
“It does happen, but very rarely.
“We often get Mars, Venus, or even Jupiter, but the fact that they’re all aligned and evenly spaced in the early morning sky is rare, but it’s also a special treat because everyone can enjoy it as long as you clear the weather.”
To see the planetary quartet, skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere must step out and gaze southeast about an hour before Sunrise.
“The trick here is to get out early,” said Tucker of Mittagong, NSW.
“What you want to do is go about an hour or an hour and a half before Sunrise, so about 4:30 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. local time.
“Look east where the sun rises, and you’ll see you have Saturn at the top, followed by Mars, then Venus — the bright one — and then Jupiter.”
If conditions are clear, all four planets will be bright enough to see with the naked eye without binoculars or a telescope.
Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn will appear in a straight line in the southeastern sky just before Sunrise on Sunday. Credit: Sunrise
Tucker said that Jupiter and Saturn would move closer in the coming weeks.
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.
“Next week, the moon will spring into action,” Tucker said.
“On the 25th, the moon will be like the fifth celestial wheel.”
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.
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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.
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Tucker says it’s like they’re sending “a bit of an instruction code.”
“It’s like NASA’s version of an IKEA space message. Here’s how you construct our DNA and genome. Here’s the direction to our planet or our solar system. This is what shapes us.”
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But we don’t expect any answers in the short term.
“It’s more of a sign that if there are civilizations in the future, and they wonder if they’re the only ones, they can at least say, ‘Hey, there was something, and there they were, and this is what they looked like.”