How to watch the planets align over the Inland Northwest
SPOKANE, Wash.– Early on Friday morning, all of the planets in our solar system visible to the naked eye will line up in order over the Inland Northwest. Each planet spent the past month moving into position for the alignment period this week, and the morning of June 24th is your best chance to see them all.
The five planets visible to the naked eye from the earth are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Uranus and Neptune are usually too faint. What’s out of the ordinary about this planetary alignment is that they’re going to line up in that exact order, from closest to furthest from the sun. Each planet takes a different amount of time to orbit the sun, so this alignment doesn’t happen all that often. The last alignment like this was in 2004; the next one won’t be until 2040!
If you want to see it, you’re going to have to get up early! The magic hour to see all the planets lined up will be 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise. This time of year that’s between 4 a.m. and sunrise at around 4:52. Why? Mercury won’t rise above the horizon until 3:45, and that’s the hardest planet of the five to spot anyway.
Look east to find Mercury low to the horizon, then turn south and look higher in the sky to see Venus, then the Moon, Mars, and Jupiter in an arcing line across the southeastern sky. As you keep turning to almost due south, you’ll run into Saturn a little separated from the rest of the celestial conga line.
Lucky for us, the weather in the Inland Northwest is pleasant and clear and will continue to be through the weekend. If you don’t want to get up before the crack of dawn on Friday, you’ll be able to see most of what you could this weekend or even sometime next week. Mercury will be harder to observe since it will rise later in the morning, and the moon won’t be lined up with the planets as it will on Friday.
How do you spot a planet in a sea of stars? Stars twinkle, planets don’t. Starlight takes a long time to reach us and is scattered more by our atmosphere than the relatively close-up planets of our solar system. Plus, planets like Saturn and Jupiter have a yellow or tan tint to them. Mars is especially distinct as its red-orange tint can be picked out easily if you know which patch of sky to look in.
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