Science & Environment

Five planets align in dawn sky


Five planets are aligning across the dawn sky over the next month, in a rare treat for skywatchers.

Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter will be simultaneously visible to the naked eye for the first time in more than a decade.

The spectacle is visible from Wednesday until 20 February, but experts warn that Mercury will become fainter towards the end of that window.

Experts advise stargazers to begin their viewing 45 minutes before dawn.

The display is made possible by the unusual alignment of the five planets along what's known as the ecliptic plane of their orbits. In practice, this means the planets lie near the plane of Earth's orbit, projecting as a line.

There will be another opportunity to view the planets in alignment from 13 August to 19 August.

At that time, the spectacle will take place around dusk, and skywatchers in the southern hemisphere will be best placed to view it.

The last occasion when the planets were visible before dawn in this way was late December 2004 to early January 2005, when their order in the sky briefly matched their relative order outward from the Sun: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.