All of the planets of the solar system are visible together in the night sky right now, providing stargazers with a “spectacular” show to end the year.
Over the next few days, it is possible to see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn simultaneously with the naked eye, while Uranus and Neptune can be observed with binoculars or a telescope.
“These nights, we can see all the planets of our solar system at a glance, soon after sunset,” Gianluca Masi, an astronomer with the Virtual Telescope Project told. ”It happens from time to time, but it is always a spectacular sight.”
The moon will also join the show, which can be seen from any location on Earth, assuming that skies are clear.
Starting from the south-western horizon, the naked eye planets will line-up in the following order: Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. Mercury will be the hardest planet to see, being located in a bright part of the sky. While the planet may be visible to the naked eye, binoculars may help to locate it, as well as Venus.
You will also need binoculars to find Uranus, located between Mars and Jupiter, and Neptune—which is situated between Saturn and Jupiter.
“This way, we can see the entire planetary family,” Masi said.
This “planetary parade” is not a regular occurrence, but is not as rare as you might expect—such an alignment takes place every one to two years or so, on average.
The last time all of the planets were visible in the sky simultaneously was June this year. During this show, the five naked eye planets were also lined up in the sky in the same sequential order that they physically orbit the sun—i.e. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Such an alignment had not occurred for 18 years.
Uranus and Neptune were also visible with binoculars during this event but, they were not aligned in increasing order of distance from the sun.
The latest planetary parade is set to last until the end of the year, when Mercury will fade away, so you only have a few days to catch a glimpse of it.
If you would prefer to watch the event from the comfort of your own home, the Virtual Telescope Project will be providing a live stream showing the planets and the moon above the skyline of Rome.
The Virtual Telescope Project is a service provided by the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Ceccano, Italy, managed by Masi, that operates and provides access to robotic, remotely-operated telescopes.