If you’re up a little before dawn over the next month, you may want to go outside and view another celestial treat, compliments of most of the solar system.
Five planets will span the sky together in the early morning hours: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter will all be visible to the naked eye from January 20 to February 20.
“About midnight, Jupiter’s going to be rising, real bright, over in the east,” says Wayne Wooten, an astronomer who lectures at Pensacola State College and the University of West Florida. “And then about 2:00 [a.m.] you’ll see reddish Mars rising in the southeast. About an hour before dawn, you’ll have Saturn, Venus, and – very close to the sun – Mercury rising.”
Within an hour to 45 minutes before daybreak, Jupiter should be well over in the western sky. Mars will be well up in the south, but not quite overhead. Then there’s the alignment of Saturn, Venus and Mercury relatively close to the sun in the east just before dawn. Jupiter and Venus will be, by far, the easiest to spot.
“Venus will be the brightest of the bunch,” says Wooten. “Jupiter will be rising at midnight and will up all morning. Mars will be reddish, Saturn will be fairly bright. Mercury – because it’s so close to the sun – probably will be the most challenging of the bunch.”
Neptune, Uranus and the dwarf planet Pluto are in the evening sky, and require a telescope. Of course, the ability to view the alignment depends on the weather, but in this area, there should be some clear early mornings on tap.
And if you’re among the malcontents who aren’t satisfied with a five-planet alignment, Comet Catalina is making its closest run by Earth this week. But there’s no threat, it’s about 67 million miles away and not visible to the naked eye.
Looking ahead to 2016, PSC astronomer Wayne Wooten says no eclipses are coming up, but there’s a transit of Mercury, it will move between Earth and the sun on May 11. The next big event is about a year and a half away.
“August 21, 2017 we have a total solar eclipse sweeping about 400 miles north of us, through Kentucky, Tennessee, northern Georgia, South Carolina,” Wooten says. “We will see 82% coverage here [in NW Florida]. I would suggest anybody who can get up to the ‘center lines’ and see the total eclipse. It will be something you tell your grandchildren about.”
For more information on the so-called “Naked-Eye Planets” is available here: