Stargazers are in for a rare treat this month. In fact, it hasn’t happened since December 2004.
Throughout June, you’ll be able to see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn — in that planetary order — low in the morning sky, in a diagonal line from the east. Then, on June 24, the waning crescent moon will join the planetary line, between Venus and Mars.
Viewing The Planets
In June, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will appear in order about 30 minutes before sunrise. Then, when the sun rises, Mercury, the dimmest of the planets, will no longer be visible due to light from the sun.
Interestingly, the planets will appear in a row because they all travel on the plane of the solar system. Although they will appear relatively close together, they actually will be millions of miles away from each other.
When celestial bodies appear close together, astronomers call it a conjunction. Conjunctions of two or three planets are fairly common and occur every few years. A conjunction of five planets, however, only happens about every 20 years. Indeed, the last time five planets were in alignment was 2004 — and it won’t happen again until 2040, according to Sky & Telescope.
“Planets are often getting closer to each other and farther away from each other, but this is just a particularly fun order: It’s just coincidence,” Michelle Thaller, an astronomer at NASA, said, according to The Washington Post. “It’s just kind of this really sort of fun tour of the solar system that you can take for free.”
Viewing The Planets And The Moon
The planetary alignment will be even more special on June 24, when the moon will line up with the planets. That morning, the moon will be between Venus and Mars, “serving as a proxy Earth,” in the planetary line, Sky & Telescope explains.
If you want to see that rare sight, you’ll need to seize the moment on June 24.
“Unlike on the days leading up to it, this special celestial alignment can be viewed in the hour before sunrise,” Sky & Telescope notes. “By the next day, the moon will have continued its orbit around the Earth, moving it out of alignment with the planets.”
How To See The Show
You won’t need a telescope or even binoculars to view the planets and moon because all will be brighter than the surrounding stars.
On June 24, all you’ll need to do is go outside and look low in the sky to the east. The show will start about an hour before sunrise, when Mercury comes into view.
You can use The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Sunrise and Sunset Calculator to determine when the sun will rise in your area. It can be found here.
While you’re thinking about it, be sure to check out all of our stargazing content, including: