‘Parade of the Planets’: A Stunning Alignment of 5 Celestial Bodies Will Decorate the Night Sky

Night sky lovers can usually spot a few planets, but in late March, a stunning visual takes shape as five planets line up under the moon in a display sometimes referred to as a parade or planetary alignment.

Viewers will be able to get the best glimpse of the alignment – which will include Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Uranus – on Tuesday evening, just after sunset. Much of the display will become visible on Friday and will continue to be visible for the next two weeks, according to Cameron Hummels, a computational astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology.

Alignments like this appear every few years or so, Hummels said, and much of it will be visible to the naked eye, even in urban areas with heavy light pollution. And it can be spotted in the northern and southern hemispheres.

The arrangement will be visible just below the crescent moon. To spot the display, Hummels recommended heading to a location with a good view of the western horizon just after sunset, when colorful sunset streaks remain and the sky has turned dark blue but not still black. (Tip: Those living far north should look slightly southwest, while those in the southern hemisphere should look northwest, Hummels said.)

The easiest planet to spot will be Venus, often called the “evening star” because it’s the brightest object in the night sky besides the moon. Uranus will appear near Venus, though it can be difficult to spot the distant planet without binoculars or a telescope unless you’re viewing from a prime location with no light pollution.

Venus and Jupiter appear unusually close to each other in an artist’s rendering.

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Beneath Venus and Uranus will be Jupiter and Mercury, hovering just above the horizon. Mercury can also be difficult to catch without special equipment, as glare from the sun can obscure the planet. But for careful observers, the two planets will be visible for about 20 to 30 minutes after sunset, Hummels said.

To top off the planetary parade, Mars will sit in a straight line from Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus, and the Moon. It’s easy to spot because of its signature orange hue, Hummels added.

The planets will all appear “much like pearls on a necklace” in the night sky, Hummels said.

The full alignment will cover approximately 70 degrees of the sky. Hummels said one method of measuring degrees in the sky is to use your thumb or clenched fist away from your body. A fist at arm’s length will cover about 10 degrees, while a thumb will cover about 1 degree.

What does that mean?

A planetary alignment like this might appear every few years, but it’s possible to catch planets all together in an even smaller part of the sky – those occurrences are just rarer.

An alignment last June, for example, was the first of its kind since 2004. The event included the five planets that can usually be seen with the naked eye – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

Hummels said not to place too much emphasis on planetary alignment.

“It’s kind of like when your car’s odometer shows a bunch of numbers — like it hit 44,444,” he said. “It’s cool and unusual. It really doesn’t mean anything.”

Fascinating celestial phenomena often decorate the night sky, he added, such as when Jupiter and Venus appeared within half a degree of each other this month.

On October 14, skywatchers can expect to see a “ring of fire” eclipse. And, in April 2024, a total solar eclipse will erase the midday sun for many in the United States.

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