Planetary Parade: See Five Planets Line Up In The Night Sky This Week
Have you seen the “planetary parade” after sunset? It’s getting a lot of media attention, partly because Jupiter is about to sink into the Sun’s glare and ruin it, but you can glimpse some to all of the five planets naked-eye and with binoculars on any night this week.
Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Uranus and Mars are all visible right after sunset. Get somewhere high with a clear view of the western horizon to watch the sunset. After sunset have a look for Jupiter and Mercury very close to the horizon. You may need binoculars. Above them will be a very bright Venus, while high in the sky will be red Mars, flanked by an almost First Quarter Moon.
What to see and when
- On Tuesday you’ll see all five planets, plus a First Quarter Moon just beyond Mars.
- On Wednesday you’ll see all five planet, possibly minus Jupiter, which will be slightly lower in the post-sunset sky. Mercury will be higher.
- On Thursday you’ll see a conjunction of Venus and Uranus. The two planets about a degree apart in the night sky (though you’ll only see Uranus if you use binoculars).Words and phrases like “aligned” and “in an arc” are being used to describe the event, but that demonstrates an ignorance of how planets orbit the Sun and how they look to use on Earth.
If you want to watch it online then The Virtual Telescope Project will stream it live at 17:45 UTC (13:45 EDT) on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.
Understanding the ‘planetary parade’
All the planets, including Earth, orbit the solar system on the same plane. It’s a bit like a fried egg with the Sun as the yolk and all the planets orbiting in concentric circles in the white.
So the path of the Sun through the daytime sky AND the path of the planets through the night sky are the same thing—the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the flat plane of the solar system and it arcs from east to west.
Earth is orbiting the Sun quickly, so our view of the solar system changes, but the planets always remain on the ecliptic. You’ll never see a planet away from the ecliptic in, for example, the northern sky.
So use the word “aligned” is misleading. The planets are always on the same arc.
This week we have the second planet from the Sun, Venus, shining brightest of all, and rising. The closest planet to the Sun, Mercury, is rising, too, making a rare trip out of the Sun’s glare to be easily visible for a few weeks right after sunset. Seventh planet Uranus—which requires binoculars—is close to Venus and appearing to move very slowly while fifth planet Jupiter is sinking fast into the Sun’s glare. Fourth planet Mars, meanwhile, shines highest in the sky.
If you want to understand the planetary parade and how it changes, come back next week and you’ll see only Mars, Venus and Uranus. Regular stargazing the only way to get a deeper understanding of how our view of the solar system changes over time.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.