When five planets align under the moon in late March, it is frequently referred to as a planetary procession or alignment. Typically, night sky enthusiasts may only observe a handful of planets.
Tuesday evening, shortly after sunset, will provide the finest view of the alignment, which will include Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Uranus. According to Cameron Hummels, a computational astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, the majority of the display will become visible on Friday and will continue to do so for the next two weeks.
Kind of like pearls on a necklace” across the night sky
This type of alignment occurs every few years, according to Hummels, and most of it is visible to the human eye, even in urban locations with severe light pollution. It is observable in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
The configuration will be seen directly underneath the crescent moon. To observe the spectacle, Hummels suggested going to a location with a good view of the western horizon immediately after sunset, when colorful streaks of the sunset are still visible and the sky is dark blue but not quite black. (Hummels advised that individuals in the Northern Hemisphere should look slightly southwest while those in the Southern Hemisphere should look northwest.)
Venus, sometimes known as the “evening star,” will be the simplest planet to locate, since it is the second-brightest object in the night sky after the moon. Uranus will look near to Venus, but it may be difficult to distinguish the distant planet without binoculars or a telescope unless you are observing from a dark place.
Below Venus and Uranus, Jupiter and Mercury will float barely above the horizon. The sun’s brightness may also make it challenging to observe Mercury without specialized equipment. Nonetheless, diligent watchers will be able to see both planets around 20 to 30 minutes after sunset, according to Hummels.
Mars will be at the front of the planetary procession, directly above Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus, and the moon. It is simple to identify due to its distinctive orange hue, Hummels added.
The planets would look “like pearls on a necklace” throughout the night sky, according to Hummels.
The full alignment will encompass almost 70 degrees of sky. One method for estimating degrees in the sky, according to Hummels, is to stretch your thumb or closed hand away from your body. At arm’s length, a fist covers around 10 degrees, whereas a thumb covers approximately 1 degree.
What does this signifier?
A planetary alignment of this type may occur every few years, but it is feasible to observe planets congregating in an even smaller region of the sky – these events are only more uncommon.
A June 2018 alignment, for instance, was the first of its sort since 2004. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, the five planets that are generally visible to the human eye, were all present at the event.
Hummels advised not to place much importance on a planetary alignment.
“It’s like when your car’s odometer displays a string of digits, such as 44,444,” he explained. “That is cool and uncommon. It really lacks any actual significance.”
He noted that fascinating celestial events frequently adorn the night sky, such as when Jupiter and Venus came within a half degree of each other this month.
On October 14, observers might anticipate seeing a “ring of fire” eclipse. In April 2024, a complete solar eclipse will obscure the noon sun for a large portion of the United States.