Planetary alignment: How and where you could see six planets in the night sky - plus top tips

If you're in the right place at the right time, you could bear witness to a rare planetary alignment Credit: PA

In early May, the Aurora Borealis danced across the night sky and was visible as far south as Kent, Cornwall and the Channel Islands - but there are further treats in store.

During the early hours of Monday, 3 June and for the week following, we could see another astronomical delight.

It's an opportunity to see six planets parade across the night sky at the same time - known as a planetary alignment.

What is a planetary alignment?

It's important to understand that a planetary alignment is not when the planets produce a perfect straight line in space.

It's where you are able to see at least three or more planets across the night sky when viewed from Earth.

To give it the technical term, it's called a conjunction.

Parade of Planets in the night sky Credit: ITV

What six planets will be visible on Monday, 3 June 2024?

During the early morning of Monday and a few days after, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune will appear to line up in the sky.

Out of the six you should be able to at least see four of these with the naked eye: Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

However, a telescope or high-powered binoculars will be necessary to view Uranus and Neptune, mainly because they're so far away.

The planets may be able to be seen a few days before and after too.

Jupiter and Mars above Wicken Fen nature reserve in Cambridgeshire Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

Where do you need to look?

You're going to need to be up early, mainly because Mercury's orbit is so close to the sun it won't appear until just before sunrise.

The planets will appear from the eastern horizon, stretching into the sky with Saturn being visible the longest, followed by Neptune and Mars.

Around dawn, as Earth continues to rotate on its axis, Uranus, Jupiter and Mercury will appear just above the eastern horizon.

Why do planetary alignments happen?

Planets orbit the sun at varying speeds and distances, causing them to constantly shift positions relative to each other in our night sky.

Sometimes, their orbits bring them into close proximity from our perspective on Earth, resulting in an alignment or conjunction.

For instance, Jupiter takes approximately 12 years to complete one orbit around the Sun, whereas Mars takes about two years.

Due to these differing orbital periods, there are times when Mars and Jupiter appear very close to each other in the sky, creating a temporary alignment.

However, since the planets in our solar system do not all orbit the sun in the same plane, it is relatively uncommon for more than two planets to align simultaneously - although such events do occur on rare occasions.

Monoceros constellation and are located about 2,300 light years from Earth (13,500 trillion miles) taken through a telescope Credit: Craig Williams - Clacton-on-Sea

How do you tell the difference between star and a planet?

Remember that stars emit light and planets reflect it.

As a result, stars twinkle in the night sky and planets should be stand-out bright.

Some planets, such as Mars, may have a red hue to them due to the surface rock.

Here are my top tips for seeing the planetary alignment:

Find a clear view: Choose a location with a clear, unobstructed view of the horizon. Elevated areas away from city lights, such as hills or open fields, are ideal.

Look to the eastern horizon: All planets should be visible around dawn before sunrise. They will arc across the sky from east to west.

Grab some binoculars or, even better, a telescope: While most planets will be visible to the naked eye, a telescope or high-powered binoculars will help you see Uranus and Neptune more clearly.

Plan for clear skies: Monitor the weather forecast and choose a night with the clearest skies for your area and the best visibility. Cloudy or overcast conditions can obstruct the view. It may be possible to see it a few nights before and after too.

Bring necessary gear: In addition to a telescope or binoculars, download an astronomy app to help identify the planets. A torch with a red light will prevent you from ruining your night vision.

Be patient: Arrive early to give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness. Be patient and take your time to locate each planet.

Capture the moment: If you have a camera with a good zoom lens, consider taking photos of the alignment. Use a tripod for stability and take long exposure shots for better results to let more light into your camera lens.

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