- Moon near Jupiter (Jan 27th/28th)
- Moon near Mars (Feb 1st)
- Moon near Saturn (Feb 2nd/3rd)
- Moon near Mercury and Venus (Feb 6th)
Take a look at this simulated scene from the morning of January 27th 2016 at around 7am.
The view is south facing at around 7am. There are five planets scattered across the morning sky (six, if you include the one you're standing on!)
If you're in the UK then you'll have from about January 24th - February 8th to see all five planets.
The positions of the planets will be slightly different each successive morning; for example, Jupiter is apparently moving west (away from the Sun) whilst Venus is moving towards the Sun. These apparent motions are caused by our own vantage point on a moving planet as well as the real movement of the planets around the Sun.
Mercury will be the trickiest planet to see. Fortunately it is not far from Venus, the brightest planet: just look to the left of Venus and a little lower towards the horizon. You'll need a clear view of the horizon and any wisps of cloud may be enough to hide Mercury in a twilight sky. If you have binoculars then it should be easy to see Mercury.
The moon, which is visible in the picture above may help to identify the planets on various mornings over the next couple of weeks.
After the first week of February it will become very difficult to pick Mercury out of the morning twilight (from the UK at least). Venus is also drawing closer to the glare of the Sun. The other planets - Saturn, Mars and Jupiter - will continue to be visible in the coming months.
Although the planets look like they're in some kind of special alignment - that's not really the case. The planets always fall close to a line in the sky called the ecliptic and that's a consequence of the fact that the solar system is disk shaped, with the planets orbiting more or less level with each other (and the Earth).
What makes this configuration more notable is that the planets are all on the same side of Sun from our persepctive. Imagine if the Sun were somewhere between Saturn and Mars in the picture above; it would mean Mars and Jupiter (to the right) would be visible in the morning sky, whilst Saturn, Venus and Mercury (to the left) were in the evening sky. That's a more typical situation.
When viewed from above the solar system you can see the arrangement of planets isn't really a notable alignment.
The Earth's orbit is highlighted in red. The other planets are spread out in different positions along their orbits. If you draw a line from Jupiter - Earth - Mercury the angle at the Earth is around 110 degrees. For all the planets to be visible in the sky at the same time we just need that angle to be less than 180 degrees with the Sun outside of the line (to the left or right of the first or last planet respectively).
Seeing a line of planets like this is fairly rare! The last event like this occurred in the evening sky in the Spring of 2002.
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Dr Adrian Jannetta. Amateur astronomer, maths teacher and science enthusiast.