Skywatchers have plenty to be excited about this week. Starting now and lasting a month, early risers can catch a glimpse of five planets just before dawn. Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter will line up in a diagonal line stretching from left to right. Head outside about an hour before dawn and look south. This is what you should see. Note: the below image shows how the moon will set up in early February. The planet alignment is already visible.
There’s only one tip for seeing the planet party. Bundle up. What’s awesome about looking at planets is that your eyes don’t need to adjust. You can head outside, get a quick peek and head back inside. Me? I’ll be bundling up this weekend to grab a few pictures.
The last time these five planets lined up like this was in 2005. But we won’t have to wait that long to see it again.
If venturing outside is a no-go for you, I have good news. According to EarthSky, the five planets will line up again in the evening sky starting August 13-19, 2016. We’ll trade the cold for swatting bugs.
Aldebaran hides behind the Moon
Not a morning person? I can’t blame you. You can head outside tonight and catch a star slide behind the Moon. The science term for this is known as ‘occultation.’ What makes tonight’s occultation great is that you can see it without a telescope. Of course, if you have binoculars or a telescope – use them.
The reason you don’t need a telescope tonight has a lot to do with the star. Aldebaran is one of the brightest stars in the night’s sky (the 14th brightest).
The Moon also helps, especially when Aldebaran initially goes behind it. Tonight’s moon is a waxing gibbous. Aldebaran will slide behind the dark part of the moon and reappear on the bright side. The first part of tonight’s occultation will be easy to see. But, you may want to grab a pair of binoculars to get the best view of the star as it reappears on the moon’s bright side.
Those of you New York City should head outside at 9:30 p.m. EST to see the star disappear behind the moon. It will reappear about an hour later at 10:43 p.m. EST. In Los Angeles, the disappearing time is at 5:03 p.m. PST with the star reappearing at 6:14 p.m. PST. Here’s a chart with times for cities across the world where the occultation is visible.
Here’s how to use that chart. The first three numbers give you the hour, minute and second in UTC. Plug the hour and minutes into Google like this (New York City example): “2:31 am utc to est.” Hit enter, and it will give you the time you need. Change the time and time zone based on the chart. Just make sure you type ‘am’ for UTC. It defaults to ‘pm’ on Google.
If you miss tonight’s occultation of Aldebaran, don’t stress it. It will happen again on July 29, October 19 and December 14.