All the planets in the solar system are just visible together in the night sky, giving stargazers a “spectacular” end-of-year show.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can be observed simultaneously with the naked eye, Uranus and Neptune with binoculars or a telescope over the next few days.
“On these nights, just after sunset, we can see all the planets in our solar system at a glance,” said Gianluca Masi, astronomer at the Virtual Telescope Project news week. “It happens from time to time, but it’s always a spectacular sight.”
After December 24th, the moon will also join the show, which can be seen from anywhere on earth, provided the sky is clear.
Starting from the southwestern horizon, the planets visible to the naked eye line up in the following order: Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. Mercury will be the hardest planet to see as it is in a bright part of the sky. While the planet can be visible to the naked eye, binoculars can help locate it as well as Venus.
You will also need binoculars to find Uranus, which is between Mars and Jupiter, and Neptune, which is between Saturn and Jupiter.
“In this way, we can see the entire family of planets,” Masi said.
This “planetary parade” doesn’t happen regularly, but it’s not as rare as you might expect — such an alignment happens about every year or two on average.
Most recently, in June of this year, all the planets could be seen in the sky at the same time. During this show, the five planets visible to the naked eye were also lined up in the sky in the same order in which they physically orbit the Sun – ie Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Such an orientation had not existed for 18 years.
Uranus and Neptune were also visible with binoculars during this event, but they were not aligned at increasing distances from the Sun.
The final parade of planets is scheduled to last until the end of the year when Mercury fades, so you only have a few days to catch a glimpse.
If you’d rather watch the event from the comfort of your own home, the Virtual Telescope Project offers a live stream showing the planets and moon above Rome’s skyline.
The Virtual Telescope Project is a service of the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Ceccano, Italy, managed by Masi, that operates and provides access to remotely operated telescopes.
The Christmas Live Feed is scheduled to begin on December 28 at 4:00 p.m. UTC or 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time.