The 5 bright planets; Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter will all be visible from Earth this month!
When and Where?
The so called ‘bright planets’- because they can usually be seen with the naked eye or binoculars – will line up in a diagonal row from the horizon to the moon between January 20th to February 20th.
They are in this nice diagonal arc because the planets are always found on or along the ecliptic – the Earth’s orbital plane.
Am I looking at a planet or a star?
The light from stars gets refracted as it passes through different layers of the Earth’s atmosphere – causing it to twinkle.
While the light from the planets in our solar system is reflected sunlight. As these planets are much closer and larger, the amount of light refracted – when entering our atmosphere – is small in comparison to their size so they do not twinkle.
Which planet am I looking at?
If its a bright light close the the horizon you are likely to be looking at Venus or Mercury.
If it is a bright red glow than it is likely you are seeing Mars.
Jupiter and Saturn both shine with a very bright yellow light, making them difficult to distinguish, though binoculars will give you Saturn’s beautiful golden colour and slightly off-round shape. You should also be able to see Jupiter’s moons with binoculars.
The best way to see them?
As Mercury will be very close to the horizon, a good open spot away from trees on a good clear night will be ideal. Try and find a nice dark place away from any light pollution for the best view.
And as they are in a line, once you find one simply draw a line between the planet you have found and the moon, and the others should be on or near this line.
Don’t worry if you miss it, they will be visible again in August!