What Planet Is Visible In The Eastern Sky - This illustration shows the pre-dawn view expected on February 1, when astronomers say Mercury will be most visible. (Courtesy of Sky & Telescope)
In the next month, five planets will be visible to the naked eye at the same time. The last time this celestial spectacle took place was more than ten years ago.
What Planet Is Visible In The Eastern Sky
According to Sky and Telescope Magazine, if you wake up 45 minutes before sunrise and look southeast in the general direction of an unobstructed sunrise, you'll see five unobstructed planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The sun rises around 7 a.m. this time of year, so astronomers are encouraged to head outside around 6:15 a.m.
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While Mercury is the closest of the five planets to Earth, it will be the hardest to see due to its low position near the horizon. Mercury is more visible this week and next; after February 6th it will be hard to notice. As the brightest planet in the solar system, Venus will be by far the easiest to spot. The bright stars Antares and Spica will also be visible.
The five planets will appear to be aligned in an arc, even if they are not. Instead, they are simultaneously positioned on the same side of the Sun and visible from Earth. All the planets orbit roughly in the same plane, called the ecliptic, but because they orbit the Sun at different speeds, this configuration doesn't happen often. For example, Mercury takes 88 days to travel around the Sun, while Saturn takes 29 years!
This chart shows the positions of the planets and their orbits. The circular symbols indicate the predicted positions of the planets on February 1st, and the arrows indicate how far they will travel in a month. The outer planets do not change position enough to be observed on this scale. (Courtesy of Sky & Telescope)
He also says that a common annoyance for urban astronomers is actually a blessing in disguise in this rare scenario.
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Chicago is no stranger to light pollution; the glare of city lights obscures our view of the Milky Way and its stars. Nichols believes the absence of visible stars makes it easier for Chicagoans to distinguish between the planets.
“When people are just learning about the sky,” says Nichols, “I actually recommend doing it in an urban setting like Chicago first because the light pollution blocks out all the fainter stars.
"If you go out where it's really dark, the sky can be very confusing because you have a lot more stars to look out for and things are harder to find."
The last time all five of these planets were visible to the naked eye was from late December 2004 to January 2005. Nichols says you won't have to wait that long or wake up early for the next event — all five will be observable in the evening sky this August. All the major planets visible to the naked eye have spent the last few weeks shining brightly in the pre-dawn sky.
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The bright planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn all line up in a line from the eastern sky to the south just before sunrise.
What makes the current planetary view somewhat unique is that all five of these worlds appear to be in their correct order relative to the sun. Mercury is lowest in the east and hardest to see, followed by bright Venus. Then reddish but much fainter Mars is followed by bright Jupiter. The planet Saturn, to the naked eye, is yellowish and tilts south at dawn.
Technically, there are two other planets that disrupt this "order". Uranus shines faintly just below the unaided eye brightness between Venus and Mars. Even fainter, Neptune is found in the area of the sky between Jupiter and Saturn.
You'd better see Mercury in the next few mornings, as this first planet from the sun completes one orbit around the sun in just 88 days, so it now appears to be rapidly tilting toward the sun. Binoculars will help you see Mercury as well as an unobstructed distant eastern horizon around 5 AM. It will fade in the sun's glare in a few days.
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Venus is the brightest planet in the sky and shines low in the east. If there is no moon, Venus will be the brightest thing you see in the dawn sky in late June. A waning crescent appears to the upper left of Venus on the morning of July 26.
Mars appears to the upper right of Venus and appears faint and red. The red planet moves into a relatively good opposition in our evening sky in early December. At that time, Mars' white polar cap and dark surface structures can be glimpsed in small telescopes.
Not yet though. Mars is too far away now and looks like a red dot in most small telescopes.
But the detailed picture that Mars lacks now is more than made up for by telescope views of Jupiter and Saturn.
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Jupiter is interesting in most telescope views because it displays its distinct cloud bands. Also, the planet does not appear entirely circular. Because of Jupiter's rapid rotation of less than 10 hours, it bulges at the equator. It looks more egg-shaped than circular.
Even good binoculars will show up to four of Jupiter's largest moons. The moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto were discovered by Galileo using his primitive telescope in the early 1600s.
Saturn is the last planet in our chain of dawn planets, appearing to the south at dawn and shining with a constant yellowish color.
Saturn is the reason many people got into amateur astronomy after first observing the ringed planet through a telescope. I also met a few people who later left the hobby because they said no other view in a telescope could match Saturn.
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The sight of the yellow planet completely surrounded by a large flat ring is fascinating and extremely memorable. Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is also easily visible in a close-up telescope view of the planet.
During its 29-year journey around the Sun, the angle at which we see Saturn's rings changes. A few years ago the rings were more "open" with a good angle to see the face of the ring system.
Right now, the rings are slowly "closing" as our angle of view becomes more angular than the rings. When our line of sight coincides with the plane of the rings, which happens every 15 years, the rings can disappear even in large telescopes.
The rings will appear edge-on again in March 2025 and will appear to slowly "close" between now and then.
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It is worth noting that a live view of Saturn and its rings belongs exclusively to telescope users. At no time is Saturn close enough for the ring system to be detectable with the naked eye.
Taking a trip outdoors on the next clear morning to see this train of five planets across the sky is a rare treat.
If you have a question about astronomy, please send it to Backyard UniverseP.O. Box 297, Stedman, NC 28391 or email [email protected] As most people know, Earth is not alone in space. It has seven siblings, other planets that also orbit the Sun. Five of these - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - can only be seen with the naked eye. But what planets can we see tonight?
Planets, when visible, appear as bright "stars" that will move gradually over time. Mercury and Venus move the fastest and careful daily observation will reveal their passage against the background of brighter stars.
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Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can also be seen moving. Slower than Mercury and Venus, you may need to note their positions and watch them closely for a few weeks to notice a change.
The two most distant planets - Uranus and Neptune - require binoculars or a telescope to see. As with the other worlds, you can track their movements, but you'll need a good star chart and moons to notice a difference.
Every world is different, but whether you're looking at one of the five easily visible planets or the faintest pair, you'll notice they all have one thing in common: If the planet isn't close to the horizon, it doesn't seem to be. glitter.
This helps us identify the planet among more distant stars and is especially useful when observing Uranus and Neptune. The reason they don't shine is that each one appears as a very small disc in the sky, whereas stars are just tiny points of light. Starlight is more susceptible to changes in the atmosphere and will shine accordingly.
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Of all the planets, Mercury is the closest to the Sun and as a result never strays far from the Sun in the sky. It always appears near the horizon just before sunrise or just after sunset and is never visible at midnight.
It takes only 88 days to complete one orbit, moves quickly, and can only be visible for a few weeks at a time. As a result, it can be difficult
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