ST. LOUIS – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and even Earth’s moon are putting on a pretty cool show in the predawn sky right now.
Seeing all five visible planets together in the sky is not a rarity but seeing them in order is. And you can do just that Friday morning.
“We have little Mercury down low on the horizon,” said Will Snyder, manager of the James S. McDonnell Planetarium at the Saint Louis Science Center. “Working your way up, you work your way through the solar system. Bright Venus. You’ve got the moon, roughly where the Earth would be in the solar system. Then continuing to red Mars, Jupiter, and then all the way over to Saturn.”
The planetary alignment has been visible since early June. But the view will be great Friday as our moon joins the parade of planets as an Earth stand-in. The planets and moon will form an arc in the pre-dawn east and southeastern sky. Yes, you are going to have to set an alarm for this show.
“We’re recommending 4:30 to 5:00 a.m. or maybe even a little bit after. That’s really the perfect time if you want to catch the planets in the morning sky.
If you are up at that time or decide to get up, the planets will be easy to spot with the naked eye, Venus being the brightest and Mercury the faintest.
“Not only is it very faint, but it is low on the horizon. So if you have trees or buildings or anything close to your house, that will make it tough to see Mercury,” Snyder said.
The last time this happened was in 2004, but the planets are a bit closer together this time.
“It makes for astrophotography or pictures anyone is taking a lot easier this go around,” he said.
And if you need another reason to get up and check out this planetary parade early Friday, the International Space Station will also make an appearance.
“Going out between 4:50 and 5 o’clock, If you are watching the planets and the moon, you will see a bright point of light coming through. It’s not aliens or UFOs, but it should be the International Space Station making a nice pass,” says Snyder.
It isn’t necessary, but if you have a telescope and feel like lugging it out first thing in the morning, you can find the planets of Uranus and Neptune in the parade as well.
All five planets will remain visible, in order, in the early morning sky through the end of the month. Note though that the moon will change positions. We won’t see another lineup like this until 2040.