Get set for a rare sky event. Starting this week the five well known planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and giant Jupiter are all going to be in the same part of the eastern morning sky together, joined for a short time by a thin Crescent Moon.
You may catch a few sneaky meteorites in the pre-dawn sky as well.
“The alignment of these five earthly neighbours will be visible from now until February 20,” said Dave Reneke from Australasian Science magazine. “If you don’t catch the alignment this time round, you’ll be able to see it again in August of this year and then again in October 2018.”
Since Mercury will appear very close to the horizon you’ll need to find a nice clear spot away from tall buildings or trees and streetlights so each planet's glow isn’t too drowned out by light pollution.
“Venus and Jupiter, however, should be fairly easy to spot and Mars’ distinctive red glow should give itself away,” Dave said. “If you can find one of these planets, just hold up your arm so it’s in line with it and the Moon and the rest should fall vaguely in line with your arm.”
Some people claim that when the alignments of the planets occur their increased gravity could wreak havoc on Earth or tear the surface of the Sun apart. It’s not true, the planets combined gravity is insignificant and the influence of the planets that are even further away is even less
The Sun and moon do have an effect on earth of course, mainly with our tides, but that’s because they are both so close and their gravitational fields are so strong. Ignore any internet disaster rumours OK.
“The planetary alignment in Australia is best observed from around an hour or so before sunrise until the sky starts to brighten,” Dave said. “Very close line-ups like this are just a grand naked eye spectacle and great to try and photograph. Bracket your shots though and use a tripod.”
It can be very exciting to see more than one planet in the same field of view of your telescope. Who could forget the beautiful ‘Smiley Face’ conjunction of December 1st, 2008? This time however just download an app called Star Chart or Sky View and go seek out planetary glory.