Changing Planet

Night Sky News: See the Tightest Planet Gathering Yet This Century

Image courtesy StarDate Magazine

Talk about an early morning eye-opener! Every day this month, about 20 to 45 minutes before sunrise, sky-watchers will get a rare opportunity to watch four worlds—Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter—in the closest planetary grouping yet seen this century.

This, planetary conjunction—astro-lingo for when planets cluster together in the heavens—has provided some impressive sights already. But the early-bird sky show is really culminating this week as they form their tightest grouping yet!

Jupiter, the gas giant and second brightest of the bunch, will glide past Venus on May 10 and 11, making the larger world easy to spot despite it being less than a quarter as bright as the goddess of love. Most impressive is that the two planets will be separated by only  0.5 degrees, which means you could easily cover the starlike pair with just your thumb on an outstretched arm.

Then, on May 12 all four worlds will be clustered within 6 degrees of each other in the dawn sky. That’s equal to the width of 12 full moon disks side by side—quite a pretty sight.

Faint little Mercury is the third brightest planet in the parade, just to the lower right of the Venus-Jupiter pair. But what makes it a challenging target is that Mercury is five to ten times fainter than Jupiter and much closer to the horizon. The innermost planet will remain a few degrees to the lower right of the brighter Venus throughout this period.

However, ruddy colored Mars is the trickiest to spot because it’s just one-hundredth as bright as Venus. The red planet starts very low in the sky, but eventually catches up with the Venus-Mercury pairing this week.

Your best bet to pick out Mercury and Mars through the bright twilight is by using binoculars when you scan just below Venus.

While this planetary alignment can be glimpsed from around the world, best views will be centered around the tropics, where the planets will shine brighter and higher in the predawn sky.

For observers in mid-latitude regions such as southern Canada, most of the continental U.S., and Europe, the planets will hug the eastern horizon very closely, making it more of a challenge to see the entire set.

No matter where you are, the most important advice is to get a clear, unobstructed view of the low eastern horizon 30 to 45 minutes before your local sunrise.

This dazzling planetary meeting will begin to slowly disband in the second half of May, but as a grand finale to the sky show, our own crescent moon will add to the mood from May 29 to 31, making for a picturesque pose with Jupiter and then Venus.

Sky-watchers haven’t seen a cosmic morning lineup like this since 1996! And if you miss this one, you will have a long wait, because the next big planetary conjunction—which will involve all five of the naked-eye planets, plus the moon—won’t occur until September 8, 2040.

The thin crescent Moon glides past the planets in the final mornings of May. Image courtesy Starry Night Software

Cosmic Gang of Four, Plus Two

While all the hoopla surrounds the four bright planets, there are two other members of the club getting in on the action.

Both Uranus and Neptune sit to the far upper right of the quadruple pack of planets in the southeastern sky. They are both significantly fainter, and so you will need binoculars to glimpse them.

Neither will look all that impressive, appearing as greenish-blue tinted, fuzzy stars. A small telescope, however, will begin to reveal their tiny disks.

Out of the eight official planetary members of our solar system, we are lucky enough to see six huddled together in one small section of the sky.

We live on one of the remaining member worlds, so that leaves one missing: Where is Saturn? The ringed gas giant sits by its lonesome in the evening sky, shining brightly high above the southern horizon.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • […] – you won’t want to miss it. Check out my viewers guide complete with skycharts on my National Geographic weekly column. Bookmark Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments […]

  • Alan

    muy interesante esto che..

  • jim

    Awesome, unfortantly that means earth quakes and more Valcano’s going off!

  • Tom

    Thanks for sharing guys 🙂 I just have to repost this to my blog 😉

  • kris avila

    i hope no cathastrophic happened.

  • ari tri wibowo

    i hope everyone see the miracle moment.

  • SGM LARRY J TOMES (ret)

    Some things are outta this World.

  • lorie a. juan

    we can see that in here ???? asia….

  • Steve

    Why don’t you have a way to email this article to someone? That’s a real shortcoming. I expected more from Nat Geo.

  • twinkle

    thats really awesome ……i was waiting for this to happen ……………i guess this would be a great oppertunity for young aspirants like us to admire

  • pramod jirapure

    happy to see the four bright planets. thanx for infomative info on it and their position……

  • GLENNA

    No site like a clustered sky!

  • Mavuto

    I’l try locating it tomorror. I didn’t know there’s fun in the dark

  • alex orlando hernandez oliva

    me gustaria que la informacion sea en español gracias. y me gutar la informacion que me enviar a mi correo

  • kristina kosmides

    Just like the planets, we follow their lead in clustering together.
    The cosmic gang of four plus two is very symbolic in its missing .

  • Gaby

    wow that’s amazing , this can be seen from romania too?? 😀

    • Everyone around the world can see these planets in the morning sky – for those close to the tropics the planets will appear higher in the sky than for those observers in higher latitudes.

  • Sylvester

    Its gonna b beautiful.i wish i had a binoculars.all ta same i will wake us early

  • Sylvester

    Its gonna b beautiful.i wish i had a binoculars.all ta same i will wake up early

  • lucypacchia

    It’s awesome

  • Sheila

    Thanks so much for sharing this info. Can’t wait to check it out!

  • Area-51 employee

    watch it in 3D! cool =)

  • rebie

    love to see them

  • lisa Callahan

    Wow this is amazing and plan on getting my happy butt up to see this beautiful sight.

  • patstar

    wow another thing to be about.

  • duoduo

    want to see

  • kk

    Can we see it in Sinapore? 12th May is tomorrow!

  • Jenn

    I’m so excited. I don’t want to miss this phenomenon. 🙂

  • Gabriel

    It was such amazing gift I received this morning.
    Thanks for the explanation.

  • Kwazi

    Dose this mean it the end of the world

  • Afnan

    Why not Friday, the 13 May 2011?

  • ebbadet

    have to wake up earlier, don’t wanna miss that magical moment………….

  • Roland H

    Great article!

    If you are interested in observing the planets, I recommend you to read this article too. Good instructions!

    http://skywatchingworld.com/planets-in-may-2011-northern-hemisphere/

  • ishwor bhetwal

    i live in Sydney Australia, i wake up at 5.30 am to go to work. i used to see two bright stars on the east just before sunrise. but from some days i saw 2 more around. i took my iphone, opened the PLANETS App, then i knew they were mars, venus, jupiter and mercury. i found myself one of the lucky ones to have the chance to see all four that close (even with open eyes).

  • Cat

    I want to see it , but the weather in Shanghai isn’t very fine for these days, maybe we don’t have a good luck to see it.

  • […] morning the sight of the predawn rendezvous Jupiter and Venus, was really great. The two brightest planets were less than one degree apart in […]

  • xmslient

    brilliant!

  • nobody

    wish we could see it here too….it will surely become the paradise on earth.

  • antonette

    wow!!!

  • mary grace quiliza

    wow!!! thats awesome! 4 cluster planet plus the moon will have the show in the sky… another phenomenon..so magical!!! hope i could see them too..cant wait to see them..need to set my alarm now……Happy viewing to all !!!!!

  • bloom

    i live in mauritius.i think i’m one of the most luckiest mauritian as i am among those who has seen the three planets(jupiter, mercury and venus). in fact every morning at 5.30 i look at the clear sky but today before going to college i saw the 3 planets nearer than ever.

  • K0ckii

    i cant wait to see this!!!!!!!!

  • luis martinez

    Thank you for the news .It´s a lifetime sight….

  • […] Tightest Planet Grouping Yet […]

  • florante

    planetary alignment according to ‘mayan calendar’ is equal to doomsday, yet it could be a new beginning….all forces of nature would be so devastating, folks lets pray for the best!!!

  • Brian

    Order of spheres: Earth, The Moon, Venus, Mercury, The Sun, Mars, Jupiter

  • Ahmed

    Can I see them from egypt??

  • Luis Matias

    I wonder if you can see it in Ohio. Anyways the funny thing s this is going to happen on my 20th birthday tomorrow !

  • Shriya

    Can all the people around the world se this phonomena?

  • Alex

    0430.. Star Log Date 12 :05:2011 it was all to much …

  • Jamie

    Cool Beans…I so hope that I remember to go outside and see this!!

  • Rocco

    I’m so happy it’s finally the end of the world!

  • Jai Sagar

    I have not seen but I watch the photos and videos of it and I like this

  • possum

    i managed to see Jupiter , Mercury and Venus this morning from approx 5:30 am till dawn , here in NZ very neat

  • […] Tightest Planet Grouping Yet […]

  • John Jacob Jinglehimer Schmidt

    I want to see 5 planets and 10 moons collide simultaneously like a billards rack exploding with a deafening *crack* and blinding light.
    Is that too much to ask for?
    Who asked you?
    Jeez!!

  • NASA

    There is no truth to the rumor that the mass and weight of so many of the planets all in one tiny corner of the solar system will cause it to tilt, and thence cause the Earth to roll at a very fast speed toward them, and either shoot out into space or even hit a couple of them. We have determined that the Earth will not smash into any of them, Repeat, the Earth will not collide with one or more of the other planets in that cluster, as best as we can determine. Thank you.

  • Akata Hodgkinson

    This morning i took Tommy (my dog) out. It was just before sunrise and i glanced to the east and saw a very bright light and a dimmer one it was Jupiter and Venus!

  • graciegrace

    wasn’t there a crop circle showing a tight planetary alignment with the earth missing?
    yep…the truth is out there 🙂

  • Ray Joseph Gonzales

    thanks for the info Natgeo.can”t wait to see it tomorrow.

  • Ray Joseph Gonzales

    thanks for the info guys. can’t wait to see it.

  • Anushka

    Miracles Dont happen everyday.. Its a treat to watch four worlds so together.. 🙂

  • […] low in the sky, but eventually catches up with the Venus-Mercury pairing this week. Continued- http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/05/09/night-sky-news-see-the-tightest-planet-gathering-… __________________ To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or […]

  • Sakti Soediro

    I saw them! on May 10. right minutes before sunrise from Sanur beach, Bali. Right above the horizon, east sky. At that time I know nothing if those three little stars I saw were Jupiter, Venus & Mercury.

    Andrew! you’re doing awesome work regarding this sky watching activities. Won’t miss you from now and on. Thank youu! 🙂

  • mylrose ching

    a want to see is pretty

  • HATTAB Maha

    Very nice,this is magic and so fantastic.

  • JAM

    This is very interesting. Im going to watch the night sky until this occurs! Thank you for good info

  • […] was indeed a five-planet alignment in our dawn skies in the month of May and early June. And comets Elenin and McNaught are headed our […]

  • […] more: newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/05/09/night-sky-new… […]

  • […] newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/05/09/night-sky-new… technorati.com/technology/article/venus-mercury-jupiter-a… […]

  • […] Mercury, Mars, Venus, & Jupiter will align this Friday 13th. More info. […]

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