Between January 20th and February 20th, a rare five planet array which hasn’t been seen for a decade will be visible in the pre-dawn night sky. During the month long period, a diagonal line stretching from the Moon to the southern horizon will include in order the planets Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury. Of course, if you live in the southern hemisphere the order the planets can be seen in the night sky will be reversed.
Naturally, Venus and Jupiter will be the brightest objects and therefore easiest to view, while Mars should also be an easy target for sky watchers on account of its distinctive red color. Meanwhile, Mercury will be a bit of a challenge to spot due to its relative position to the rising sun, as well as being the smallest planet, and Saturn, too, stands the risk of being confused with a star. However, the whole experience can be enhanced by viewing the planets through a pair of binoculars and as Prof Fred Watson from the Australian Astronomical Observatory, explains:
“But it’s [Saturn] yellowish. And with binoculars with about 10 times magnification you can tell it’s not a round dot of light like a star – it looks elongated.”
While the five planets can be seen as an array of celestial objects, they are not referred to as a “planetary alignment” as they will not form a strictly straight line. The reason for the rare astronomical event is that at this point in their orbit around the Sun the five planets are on the same side, and therefore can all be viewed together in the morning, rather than at night.