A spectacular, rare alignment of 6 planets will occur in the sky

Six of the Solar System’s planets are about to line up for a rare sight in Earth’s sky.

In the wee hours of June 3 and 4, 2024, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus will appear in a straight line in an alignment known as a planet parade. Only Venus will be absent, and even Earth’s waning crescent will appear.

It is not unusual for several planets to be in the sky at the same time, but it is less common for more planets to line up. Any number of planets from three to eight constitutes an alignment. A conjunction of five or six planets is known as a great alignment, but alignments with five planets are significantly more frequent than six.

These alignments do not represent the planets lining up in space, as you see in diagrams and illustrations of the Solar System. This is not a thing that actually happens in the real Universe, unfortunately.

planetary alignment
An illustration of the June 3 planetary alignment. (Star Walk)

A planetary alignment occurs because the planets of the Solar System all revolve around the Sun in a more or less flat plane called the ecliptic. Some are slightly above or below this plane, but it is roughly the same.

This is because of the way stars, including the Sun, are formed. A small star in a cloud of material begins to rotate; the cloud around them rotates in a disk that feeds on the small star. A planet is formed from what remains of the disc and, if left to its own devices, will stay in that level position.

This means that, from time to time, the planets will be on the same side of the Sun as they move along their orbits, so we can see them in the sky at the same time. They appear to be in a straight line because they are all on the ecliptic.

This is what will happen in early June, about an hour before sunrise. You may need some visuals AID. While Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will be bright enough to see with the naked eye, Uranus and Neptune are far away and faint, so if you want to catch a glimpse you’ll need binoculars or a telescope.

We have several more alignments of the same planets coming up in the coming months, so you may want to mark your calendars accordingly: August 28, 2024 and January 18, 2025 will both see big alignments with six planets in the pre-dawn hours.

For a truly spectacular look, keep your hats on for a full planetary stretch. On the evening of February 28, 2025, all seven other planets will appear in the sky at the same time. This will be a very good night for planet watchers.

How to watch

The extension will be visible from most countries around the world on June 3. What time the planets rise and set, and in what order, depends on where you are looking in the world. There are tools you can use to get those times and locations in the sky.

Time and Date has an interactive tool that allows you to set the date you want to view, showing the rising and setting times for each planet and where they can be seen in the sky.

Stellarium has a similar online tool that shows you the positions of all the planets.

Sky Tonight is a free mobile app that uses your phone’s hardware to estimate where you are and shows you the real-time positions of celestial objects on a sky map above. There is also a good list of other options here.

Get out there and go look at some sky.

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Image Source : www.sciencealert.com

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