June 16, 2024

Stargazers have a chance for a celestial treat on Monday, with six planets appearing in alignment.

Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus will take part in the parade – which occurs when planets meet on the same side of the Sun.

Prof Danny Steeghs from the University of Warwick said the event – which should be visible around the world – will occur at sunrise and will be quite low in the east, meaning the alignment will require equipment to see properly.

“Uranus and Neptune will be faint, so viewers will need good binoculars to see them,” he said, adding that the proximity of Jupiter and Mercury to the Sun will limit their view.

However, some of the planets may be visible to the naked eye – although scattered light can still cause problems.

“Mars and Saturn are the more accessible to see, you can see them before the other planets rise and a little higher in the sky,” Steegh said, adding that mobile apps can help show where and when to look up.

The planets will appear in a diagonal arrangement across the sky, with Saturn highest, followed by Neptune, then Mars, Uranus and Mercury. Jupiter will appear closest to the horizon.

Dr Grant Kennedy, also from the University of Warwick, said: “We see the Sun in both hemispheres and the planets are not too far from the Sun, so southerners have similar chances of seeing the planets.”

The parade is expected to last for several days, while the same planets will align in August and in January 2025 – albeit in a different order – with seven planets aligning in February next year.

“There will be quite a few similar events over the next few years because the outer planets are moving pretty slowly and Earth is moving pretty fast,” Kennedy said.

But, he added, “If we were to wait for this particular configuration to go away and come back again, we would have to wait a lot longer.”

Indeed, while six planets are expected to align again in March 2080, that group includes Venus but not Neptune.

“Once Uranus and Neptune have moved on in their orbits and are no longer close to each other in the sky, it will take about a hundred years for Uranus to catch up with Neptune so that they appear close to each other in the sky again. And then we’ll have to wait for the other four outer planets to also be on the same side of the Sun to see a parade,” Kennedy said.

Dr Ed Bloomer, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, warned planet watchers not to look at the Sun while looking for the planets to avoid eye damage, but said for the best chance of seeing the parade they should a dark field or park and face the east.

Bloomer added that while he may be looking at the celestial event, it will occur very early in the morning.

“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I’m probably going to sleep.”

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