It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, wait, it’s a planet!
Five planets, in fact. All you need to do is look up.
Tuesday evening, five planets – Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus and Mars – will all gather within a 50-degree sky sector – in what will be a rare astronomical phenomenon, according to the website Starwalk.
And in the Chicago area, you’re in luck: The skies are likely to clear up just time to catch it. However, it wouldn’t hurt to have binoculars, or a telescope handy.
The planets – Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Uranus and Mars – will come together on the western horizon, near the crescent moon, for a brief display after sunset. People almost anywhere on Earth with a westerly view and clear skies will be able to catch it.
Although the best day to see the full array is Tuesday, several of the planets will remain visible for the next two weeks. Jupiter, Venus and Mars will be the easiest to spot, as they shine brightly, according to Cooke. Mars will appear close to the moon, with a reddish glow, while Mercury and Uranus will appear dimmer and best viewed through binoculars.
But the view will be ephemeral; Mercury and Jupiter will quickly dip below the horizon around half an hour after sunset.
The planets aren’t actually close together – they are scattered across the solar system. It will just appear that way from our perspective on Earth. The phenomenon occurs when the planets are orbiting on the same side of the sun as Earth.
It is not uncommon for groups of planets to come together this way in earthly skies. Another five-planet array, with a slightly different lineup, will happen in June.
Still, it’s a worthy view. “You get to see pretty much the whole solar system in one night,” says Rory Bentley, a UCLA astronomer, told Popular Science.
What time can you see the planets align?
To see this five-planet alignment, look to the western horizon at sunset, experts advise.
Sunset times vary and can be calculated using Timeanddate.com’s sun calculator.
“If you go outside, right at sunset, right after the sun goes down and look west, you’ll see these planets strung out in a line extending about 50 degree.
Does This Happen Often?
Different numbers and groups of planets line up in the sky from time to time. There was a five-planet lineup last summer and there’s another one in June, with a slightly different makeup.
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