This weekend is your last chance to see all five naked-eye planets together in the night sky until 2041.
Get up before sunrise and keep your eyes on the southeast horizon and you’ll be able to see Mercury closest to the horizon, followed by Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
Earlier this month it was possible to see all those planets within 91º with the naked eye. It has been getting taller since then and will be visible as wide as 107º on Friday, June 24, 2022.
Does that make it “better” or “worse”? Neither—but crucially it makes Mercury much easier to spot because the minor planet is now relatively high in the sky, rising an hour earlier than the Sun.
As a bonus there will also be a 19%-light crescent Moon between Venus and Mars. It promises to be a beautiful sight, although you may need a pair of binoculars to see Mercury.
The five planets with the naked eye will be arranged in their natural order from the Sun. First will be Mercury (brightest) and Venus (brightest) – the two inner planets that orbit the Sun closer than Earth – followed by Mars, Jupiter, and then Saturn.
Such alignments sometimes occur because the planets are moving around the solar system at very different speeds; Mercury takes 88 days to orbit the Sun, one year for Earth and 29 years for Saturn. Therefore only occasionally can a cluster of planets occur in one place in the night sky of the Earth.
However, the planets are not actually aligned. This is only a line-of-sight phenomenon – an optical illusion. The planets are several million miles from each other and from Earth.
According to sky and telescope The last time the five naked-eye planets on the horizon rotated in sequence was in December 2004, but this year, the difference between Mercury and Saturn is much smaller.
This won’t happen again until 2041, although a little before that comes an ultra-rare “golden conjunction” on September 8, 2040. Mars, Mercury, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter are visible in the same small 10º of the night sky just after sunset in the west.
I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.