Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will line up in the sky this week and could stay visible to the naked eye for a number of weeks. Skygazers have been treated to the sight from Wednesday which will continue through to early May, and the four planets will be visible early in the mornings before sunrise.
Experts say the best viewing window is between around 5am and 6am (BST) over the coming days, just after the planets rise above the horizon, but just before the Sun follows after them. The Moon will also join the line-up on April 24, with a fifth planet – Mercury – becoming visible from June 24.
Observers must look towards the southeast and use the Moon as a starting point. The Earth's natural satellite should have four bright dots lined up to its left.
Despite appearing from Earth to be lined up, the planets will not actually be lined up in space. Jake Foster, an astronomy education officer at Royal Museums Greenwich, said: “To view this event, all you require is a clear eastern horizon. No specialist viewing equipment is necessary.
“These types of alignments in our skies, sometimes known as planet parades, only occur from our perspective here on the Earth. The planets themselves are not physically aligned in space during these events, meaning that the perceived alignment is unique to our perspective as observers on the Earth.
“These events tend to happen once every few years, the last one taking place in 2020. This year, we are particularly lucky as we will witness an alignment of five planets visible to the unaided eye on June 24, with Mercury joining the other four visible planets as an added bonus.”
However, Dr Robert Massey, deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society, said spotting Mars and Saturn in this line-up may be particularly difficult. He told the PA news agency: “This is a nice conjunction, as the brightest naked eye planets are visible together in a line, with Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn from east to west.
“The event is best viewed at dawn, but not too late as the brightening sky will wash out Mars and Saturn in particular. From the UK and similar latitudes, and further north, this will be hard to see as the planets are very low down at sunrise and the sky will be very bright by then. I’m not confident that Mars and Saturn will be visible at all from here, at least to the naked eye.”
He added: “You can try to spot the planets with binoculars (use an online star chart to work out where to look) but you must only do that before sunrise as looking at the Sun with binoculars or a telescope can cause serious damage to your eyes – as can looking at the Sun with your eyes alone.”
The last time planets aligned in this fashion was two years ago, in 2020. And before then, astronomers spotted alignments in 2016 and 2005, with the former event seeing a parade of five with Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury appearing together.