As they say, the best things in life are free. When it comes to what to see and experience this month, very few opportunities come close to witnessing the rare alignment of four planets in the predawn sky. Starting Sunday morning (April 24), Australians can witness Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn together from the comfort of home, without paying a dime.
In Australia, or anywhere else in the southern hemisphere, the sun’s path in the sky is at a steeper angle to the horizon, meaning the chain of planets will fan out higher than the point of sunrise. To see the alignment of Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, you need to look in the sunrise direction (roughly southeast) about an hour before sunrise.
According to NASA, sky watchers looking east on a flat horizon will be able to spot Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn when the planets appear “strung together in a line in the morning sky.” Provided conditions are clear, which, if you’re from Sydney, they probably won’t be, the planetary quartet should be bright enough to see even without the aid of binoculars or spotting scopes.
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In any case, Jupiter, despite being the second brightest planet in this celestial party, appears lower on the horizon, which will probably make it more difficult to detect. This is expected to change as the month progresses, with NASA stating that “before the last week of April, Jupiter will be high enough above the horizon in the pre-dawn hour to make it easier to observe.”
This same event would look very different from any other point in the galaxy. Since all the planets in our solar system are said to orbit the sun in the same plane, they appear to form a straight line in Earth’s sky as they occasionally cross each other in their orbit. It’s all about perspective, and this month we’re capturing the orbits of four planets at a particularly opportune time.
As mentioned, Jupiter will appear lower and further to the left, then moving up in an invisible line to the right, it will be followed by Venus, Mars, and Saturn. An app like Stellarium can be useful for tracking planets if you plan to catch them this month.
Mercury will also be visible this month, but not at the same time as the others. You could think of Mercury’s appearance at night a bit like an after-credits scene from your favorite Marvel movie, only teasing what’s to come.
From late June to early July, an even rarer lineup of five planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – will be visible in the pre-dawn sky.
Who needs Netflix when you have the best show in the galaxy on top of you?