As they say, the best things in life are free. When it comes to what to watch and experience this month, very few opportunities come close to that of witnessing the rare alignment of four planets in the predawn sky. Beginning around Sunday morning (April 24th), Aussies can witness Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn together from the comfort of their own home, without paying a cent.
In Australia – or anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere, for that matter – the sun’s path in the sky is at a steeper angle to the horizon, meaning that the string of planets will unfurl higher above the sunrise point. To see the alignment of Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, you should look in the direction of the sunrise (sort of southeast) about an hour before the sun comes up.
According to NASA, skywatchers that face east at a flat horizon will be able to spot Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn as the planets appear “strung out in a line across the morning sky”. Provided that conditions are clear – which, if you are from Sydney, they probably won’t be – the planetary quartet should be bright enough to see even without the aid of binoculars or telescopes.
In any event, Jupiter – despite being the second brightest planet in this celestial party – appears lowest on the horizon, which will likely make it difficult to spot. This is expected to change as the month goes on, with NASA stating that “heading into the last week of April, Jupiter will be high enough above the horizon in the hour before sunrise to make it more easily observed.”
This same event would look vastly different from any other point in the galaxy. Given every planet in our solar system is said to orbit the sun on the same flat plane, they appear to form a straight line in the Earth’s skies as they occasionally swing past each other in their orbit. It’s all a matter of perspective, and this month we are catching four planets’ orbits at a particularly opportune time.
As mentioned, Jupiter will appear the lowest and furthest to the left, then moving up in an invisible line going to the right, it will be followed by Venus, Mars and Saturn. An app like Stellarium can be useful in tracking planets if you plan on catching them this month.
Mercury will also be visible this month, but not at the same time as the others. You could consider Mercury’s appearance in the evening a bit like a scene after the credits in your favourite Marvel movie, only teasing what is to come.
From late June to early July, an even rarer alignment of five planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — will be visible in the sky before sunrise.
Who needs Netflix when you’ve got the greatest show in the galaxy above you?