The planets are putting on a once in a lifetime show for us in the last part of April and the first three weeks in May. Four of the five visible planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter) will be visible in the pre-dawn sky and the fifth (Saturn) in the evening sky. So if you have never seen all five visible planets here is one of the best chances you will get to do it all at once. You don’t need binoculars or a telescope; your eyes will work perfectly.
Observing the planets and their motions is a lot easier than you may think. So what do you have to do?
- Look east. Make sure you have a clear eastern horizon. The planets will be low on the horizon. You may have to go to a park or school yard close by.
- Set the alarm clock. Most of the action takes place between 5AM and 5:45AM. Later at the end of April to earlier later in May.
- Watch the event several times over the four week period. Yes they move.
- Remember this event takes place close to sunrise. DO NOT LOOK THE SUN!
- Dress warmly
What will you see?
- There are no bright stars in the area so the four “stars” you will see are planets. They will be south or to the right of the sunrise.
- Jupiter and Venus will be the brightest. Venus is the brighter of the two.
- Mars and Mercury will be dimmer. Mars will be the dimmest and most difficult to find, but by no means impossible.
- A thin crescent Moon will join the grouping for two days on April 30.
- Over the next four weeks the planets will be continually changing positions relative to each other. It’s a new pattern every morning. Make some drawings.
Is there a way you can see this without having to get out of bed?
Yes and no. You will have to get out of bed to see the real thing. Whether you get out of bed or not you can watch the whole show on your computer! If you don’t have a planetarium program on your computer I strongly suggest you download Stellarium. It’s free. The program is easy to use and you can watch the day-by-day and minute-minute changes. It’s a great planning tool for those who want to see the real thing. All you have to do is tell the program is where you are (Aurora is on the list of cities) and what time you want to see the sky. And there are no clouds! The next few days call for cloudy mornings in Aurora, CO.
To find Saturn look to the southeast in the evening either outside or on the computer.
This is an excellent event to share with kids, just don’t tell them they are UFOs.
This event is called a quadruple planetary conjunction. It is not uncommon for two or even three planets to group together. The Moon passes by all of the planets every month. Such conjunctions are often interpreted as UFO’s. Because of this “unique” alignment the internet is full predictions of doom. Let me assure you this has happen thousands of times before and will happen thousands of time again. Just enjoy this unique sight.