Five planets line up in A.M. sky for 1st time in a decade
Wednesday, February 3, 2016, 1:42 PM - Looking for a special morning treat for February? Turn your eyes to the pre-dawn skies to see five bright planets all at the same time!
If you find yourself under clear skies, in the hour or so just before sunrise over the next few weeks, take a moment to pause and gaze to the south.
With conditions just right and nothing bright around to spoil your night vision, you should see five bright lights, all lined up in a nice row, stretching diagonally across the sky.
The pre-dawn lineup of planets in the sky for early February, 2016. Credit: Stellarium
In that lineup... Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter, all displayed in the sky at once.
Apparently, seeing all five of these bright planets in the same sky all at once - all the ones that are easily visible in the sky without some kind of optical assistance - hasn't happened since 2005.
Although it forms a pretty spectacular sight in our morning skies, this doesn't actually represent any kind of significant astronomical alignment.
The positions of the planets around the Sun, January 19, 2016. Orbits are to scale, however the Sun and planets are enlarged for emphasis. Credit: solarsystemscope.com
From an extraterrestrial perspective, like the one shown above, the planets are most certainly not lined up. In fact, they're scattered around one-quarter of the solar system, in a configuration that's about as far out of alignment as you can get!
Enjoy the view from here on Earth, though, but don't be sad if you happen to miss it on Wednesday morning.
This sight was visible in the morning skies for the end of January and will remain visible until February 20th, when Mercury again retreats beyond the horizon. The view will even get better as the date advances, as the collection gets higher in the sky each morning, and thus visible under a darker sky each day until the 20th.
The best time to view all five planets is starting around 6:30 a.m. local time, up until sunrise.
The planets from January 20-31, 2016. The Moon even joins the morning lineup towards the end of the month. The parade continues well into February. Credit: Stellarium, with labels added by S. Sutherland