Look up this month! FIVE planets will be visible in the night sky at the end of March – here’s how to see Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus and Mars
- On March 28, a major planetary alignment will be visible to Earth-based stargazers
- While it’s not unusual to see two or three planets lined up, this is more unusual
- Star Walk recommends using the Sky Tonight app to identify the above planets
Stargazers are in for a treat later this month, as five solar system planets will be visible from Earth as part of a rare planetary alignment.
On March 28, Jupiter, Mercury, Uranus, Mars and Venus are expected to converge in a small part of the sky shortly after sunset.
Two of the brighter planets – Mercury and Jupiter – will be visible near the horizon, while Venus is expected to shine higher in the sky.
While binoculars will be needed to spot Uranus, Mars should be visible in the alignment near the moon’s first quarter.
While it’s not uncommon to see two or three planets in the sky, an alignment of five is less common. It happened last year, and in both 2020 and 2016 before that.
On March 28, a major planetary alignment of Jupiter, Mercury, Uranus, Mars and Venus will be visible to stargazers on Earth
Last year, stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere had the amazing opportunity to stare at Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn at the same time.
WHICH PLANETS ARE VISIBLE IN THE NIGHT SKY?
To easily identify this month’s planets, the educational astronomy application Star Walk recommends using the Sky Tonight app, which can be pointed at the night sky to provide a live view of what’s going on.
The planets are expected to align in a 50-degree sector of the sky, meaning they appear closer together in a small area above from Earth.
This visual phenomenon differs from an astronomical alignment, which refers to the simultaneous convergence of planets on the same side of the sun.
Beth Biller, from the University of Edinburgh, told MailOnline that some planets are much easier to see than others.
She said: ‘Venus and Jupiter are both very bright and easy to distinguish, and you may have seen them close together in recent weeks.
‘Mars is slightly fainter, but still very visible to the naked eye. Mercury is starting to get tricky – you need to be in a dark place with a clear view of the horizon if you want to see Mercury.
“Uranus is the faintest and hardest to see – you need binoculars or a telescope to see Uranus.”
Rare: While it’s not uncommon to see two or three planets lined up, five planets is less common
Senior contributing editor at Sky & Telescope, Rick Fienberg, also stressed that seeing all five planets at the same time on March 28 can be difficult and will depend on one’s location.
“Unless you have clear skies and a nearly flat western horizon with no obstructions like trees or buildings, you won’t see Jupiter and Mercury,” he said of the one in the US while speaking to FOX 35.
While specialist equipment may be needed to spot Uranus, Mr. Fienberg that the five planets should be visible with binoculars.
However, skywatchers need not worry if they miss the spectacle.
Star Walk said there will be several other planetary alignments this year.
Less than a month later, Mercury, Uranus, Venus and Mars are expected to realign in a 35 degree celestial sector.
Then on April 24, a 40-degree sector occurs where Mars, Venus, Uranus, and Mercury converge.
DOES PLANET ALIGNMENT HAVE AN EFFECT ON EARTH?
The planets in our solar system are never in one perfectly straight line as they show in the movies.
If you look at a two-dimensional chart of the planets and their orbits on a piece of paper, you might think that all the planets will eventually orbit around the same line.
In reality, the planets do not all orbit perfectly in the same plane. Instead, they swing around in different orbits in three-dimensional space. For this reason, they will never be perfectly aligned.
Planetary alignment depends on your point of view. If three planets are in the same region of the sky from Earth’s point of view, they don’t necessarily have to be in the same region of the sky from the Sun’s point of view.
Alignment is therefore an artifact of a point of view and not something fundamental about the planets themselves.
Even if the planets were all aligned in a perfectly straight line, it would have negligible effects on Earth.
Fictional and pseudoscientific authors like to argue that a planetary alignment would mean adding up all the planets’ gravitational fields to make something huge that disrupts life on Earth.
In reality, the gravitational pull of the planets on Earth is so weak that they have no significant effect on life on Earth.
There are only two objects in the solar system with enough gravity to significantly affect the Earth: the moon and the sun.
The sun’s gravity is strong because the sun is so massive. The gravitational effect of the Moon on Earth is strong because the Moon is so close.
The Sun’s gravity causes the Earth’s annual orbit and therefore, when combined with the Earth’s tilt, causes the seasons.
The moon’s gravity is primarily responsible for the daily ocean tides. The near alignment of the sun and moon has an effect on the Earth because their gravitational fields are so strong.
This partial alignment occurs every full moon and new moon and leads to extra strong tides called “spring tides.”
The word ‘spring’ here refers to the fact that the water seems to spring up the shore every two weeks with the extra strong tides – not that they only occur in the spring season.
Source: dr. Christopher S. Baird/West Texas A&M University