It has been 18 years since Earthlings have been able to spy five planets in their skies, together and in order from Sun outward, but it’s possible now through the end of June. Want to take a look? Maybe you should. Yes, get up early — 30 to 45 minutes ahead of sunrise — find a spot where you can see the southern sky, and sweep your gaze from the east to the south.
Given clear skies low to the eastern horizon, look for a tiny star-like dot. If you’re lucky, you’ll have spotted planet Mercury, the most elusive of the worlds you’ll see due to its size and proximity to Sun. Moving westward, next comes Venus. You’ll have no trouble spotting Earth’s overheated sister as it will shine brilliantly even in early twilight.
Skipping Earth (it doesn’t count because you’re standing on it) Mars is next in line. Look for a little reddish light not far from brighter Jupiter. Moving across a bigger gap and looking south, we finally reach Saturn, the Lord of the Rings. The ringed world will appear as a slightly golden star.
Binoculars will help, especially in finding tiny Mercury, but may also allow users to see Jupiter’s four Galilean Moons. A little visual aid may also help in confirming it’s Saturn that has been spotted — if the rings aren’t distinct, the planet will appear as a bright oval and not like a starry speck.
The planets will be joined by Earth’s Moon at various points along their arc, changing placement nightly from about June 18 — 28. A beautiful arrangement will occur on June 24 when the then-crescent Moon will float between Venus and Mars. Around the 28th, Moon will have drifted out of the arc entering its New (dark) phase.
At the end of June, Mercury will slip too close to Sun for it to be seen by casual observers, ending the celestial gathering. The four other planets, however, will remain in their arc though their relative positions will shift nightly and almost imperceptibly, until they no longer form a visual chain.
The five-planet dance was last seen in 2004 and it won’t happen again until 2040. Maybe you’ll be on your way to or from work. Perhaps the dog needs walking. You may even think it’s worth getting out of bed early on a clear, cool June morning so you can tell everyone you saw five planets all together. Whatever puts you under a clear starry sky, look up and enjoy our wonderful universe.