By Linda Weiford, WSU News
PULLMAN, Wash. – In an unusual celestial show, five planets all at once and visible to the naked eye have begun a nightly parade over the Pacific Northwest.
For the first time since 2005, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are aligned across the sky and the viewing is good in this part of the country, according to Washington State University astronomer Guy Worthey. The planetary performance will run until Feb. 20; however, it will be most clearly seen during the next two weeks – weather permitting, he said.
“Starting with Jupiter, each planet will appear one at a time until they’re all lined up diagonally across the sky,” he explained.
Prime-time viewing starts around 3:30 a.m. PST. Those not wanting to drag themselves out of bed at that hour can see the planetary quintet just before dawn, although shining a little less brightly.
The reason for this special show? All five planets happen to be on the western side of the sun at the same time, said Worthey.
“Not only does this make it convenient for people, but they’ll actually get to see Mercury,” he said of the solar system’s innermost planet that’s roughly one-third the size of Earth. “It’s a real opportunity.”
Of the five planets, Mercury will appear closest to the horizon in the east. Venus is the brightest, so stargazers may spot it first, he said.
The planetary display will return in August but will be less visible in the northern hemisphere than this time around.