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Planetary parade: Look up this weekend as five planets will align in the sky

An incredible celestial show is about to light up the night sky as five planets will be parading in a rare alignment this weekend. One hour before sunrise on Saturday morning, June 17, Mercury, Uranus, Jupiter, Neptune, and Saturn will be aligned near the eastern horizon.

This phenomenon, known as a planetary parade, happens when multiple planets are located in the same constellation. The alignment is a fairly uncommon event, with the next parade set to occur in April 2024.

How to view the planetary parade 

Three of the planets – Jupiter, Mercury, and Saturn – are among the brighter celestial bodies and will be visible with the naked eye from a good viewing location. However, binoculars or a telescope may be needed to view Neptune and Uranus, the fainter celestial bodies in the alignment. According to Star Walk, Uranus will be located seven degrees lower than Jupiter.

The alignment will occur in a 93-degree sector, meaning that the planets will appear clustered together in a relatively small portion of the sky. NASA recommends checking the weather forecast ahead of time to ensure a cloudless and obstruction-free view of the horizon, away from the blinding lights of the city.

When identifying the planets among the multitude of stars, the lack of twinkling can serve as a helpful pointer. Planets, unlike stars, do not twinkle, and spotting these steady lights amid the flickering stars can help identify the planetary parade.

When to view the alignment

While the best time to view this planetary parade is on Saturday morning, Saturn will make an earlier appearance, rising in the night sky on June 16 in the constellation of Aquarius. Meanwhile, Jupiter will be found in the constellation of Aries, and Mercury will make its appearance in Taurus.

According to MRT, June 17 also offers the best opportunity for observers in the United States to view the alignment, which precedes the occurrence of a new Moon at 12:37 am (ET) the following day. 

Even if you happen to miss this event, there are many extraordinary astronomical sights coming up this month. The summer solstice is set to occur on June 21, marking the longest day of the year for the northern hemisphere. 

For those seeking assistance in identifying the planets this month, the educational astronomy application, Star Walk, recommends using the Sky Tonight app. This tool can be pointed towards the night sky, providing a live display of the ongoing celestial events.

What is a planetary parade?

A “planetary parade” is an astronomical event that occurs when the planets in our solar system line up in a row in the same area of the sky, as viewed from Earth. This alignment can include three or more planets, depending on the specific event.

The term “planetary parade” is more colloquial than scientific, and it’s used to describe the visual spectacle of seeing multiple planets aligned.

It’s worth noting that the planets will not literally appear to be in a straight line, one after the other. Instead, they will all appear within the same general area of the sky when viewed from Earth.

Due to the different orbits and orbital speeds of the planets, a planetary parade is a relatively rare event. Some planets, especially the outer ones, have very long orbits, so their alignment with other planets can take many years, even centuries, to recur.

During a planetary parade, you can see the planets with the naked eye, but a telescope will provide a more detailed view.

However, these events have no significant scientific impact, because even during a parade, the planets are still millions of kilometers apart from each other. But they are still interesting events for stargazers and amateur astronomers.

Tips for stargazers 

Stargazing can be an incredibly enjoyable and educational experience. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of it:

Check the weather

Clear skies are ideal for stargazing. Try to plan your stargazing on a night with few or no clouds.

Avoid light pollution

Try to find a spot away from city lights or other sources of light pollution. Darker skies will allow you to see more stars and other celestial objects.

Allow your eyes to adjust

It can take up to 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness. Try to avoid looking at any bright lights (like your phone) during this time.

Bring a star map or app

These can help you identify constellations and other celestial objects. There are many smartphone apps that can help with this.

Use a telescope or binoculars

While not strictly necessary, a telescope or even a pair of binoculars can enhance your stargazing experience, allowing you to see planets, moons, and other objects more clearly.

Be patient

Astronomy often involves waiting for the right moment to view a celestial event or object. Don’t rush your stargazing experience.

Join a local astronomy club

If you’re interested in getting more involved with stargazing, consider joining an astronomy club. They can provide you with resources, information, and a community of like-minded individuals.

Keep learning 

The more you understand about what you’re seeing, the more rewarding your experience will be. Learn about different celestial bodies, their movements, and how to locate them in the sky.

Protect the night sky

Advocate for policies that reduce light pollution, and make sure to turn off unnecessary lights at night. This helps ensure that we and future generations can continue to enjoy the beauty of the night sky.

Remember that stargazing is a hobby that’s meant to be enjoyed, so the most important tip is to relax and enjoy the beauty of the universe.


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