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Five Of Solar System's Planets Will Put On A Show For Dedicated Skywatchers

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Dedicated sky watchers willing to get up in the wee hours before dawn will be treated to a five-planet celestial alignment, the first of such arrangement of the distant worlds in 10 years.

Starting Jan. 20 and continuing until Feb. 20, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will appear together in the hours before daybreak.

The best viewing time will be from one hour to an hour and a half before sunrise. Earlier than that, some of the planetary quintet will not have risen yet above the horizon, and as dawn breaks the sun's light will make the planets disappear from view, experts explain.

People waiting for the show should look toward the southeast, they say.

Not an early morning person? It should not be a problem since the five planets will appear again for three days in mid-August, Aug. 13-19, this time in the evening hours, although EarthSky notes Mercury and Venus will sit low in the sky at dusk and won't be easy to find in northern latitudes.

The five planets are all the ones visible to the naked eye from Earth, as Neptune and Uranus are too far and too faint to be seen without a telescope.

However, they considerably vary in brightness, which might require a little technological help to spot them all, says Jason Kendall, who is on the board of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York.

"For Mercury you will need binoculars," he says. "It will not jump out at you, but everybody should be able to see Venus and Jupiter."

The last time this alignment was visible from Earth was between Dec. 15, 2004 and Jan. 15, 2005.

"These planets are easily seen in our sky because their disks reflect sunlight, and these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars," explains EarthSky.

Although at immensely varying distances from Earth, they will seem to be aligned in the sky because of their current positions as they travel along their orbits.

If we could look at the solar system from above, we would see they're currently still in their individual orbits, but all on the same side of the sun, which makes them appear together as seen from Earth, with Jupiter rising above the horizon first followed by Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury.

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