Solar System Tour: See 5 Planets in 1 Night
On Thursday April 15, 2010, the evening starts with a triple conjunction of the moon, Mercury, and Venus, then continues with Mars visiting the Beehive. Full Story.
Credit: Starry Night® Software.

On Thursday night, April 15, you will have a wonderful opportunity to view all the naked eye planets in one night.

Just after sunset, look for Venus shining brightly just above the sun. It will be the brightest thing in the sky other than the slender crescent moon, just below and to the right of it. The moon is just a day and a half past new moon. Just below and to the left of the Moon, look for a tiny speck of light: the planet Mercury.

As the sky grows darker, look overhead for the red planet Mars, now fading in brightness. Tonight Mars is visiting the Beehive, the beautiful cluster of stars which is the centerpiece of the constellation Cancer. In fact, this star cluster outshines all of the faint stars in this constellation. [Sky Map: See the five planets.]

Notice as the stars begin to come out that the brightest stars are almost all in the western half of the sky. This is because the winter Milky Way is setting in the western sky at this time and, when we look eastward, we are looking perpendicular to the disk of the Milky Way towards intergalactic space. There are few bright stars in this direction, the most obvious being Arcturus, Regulus, and Spica.

Look also for Saturn in this direction, slightly south of east, halfway between Regulus and Spica. Saturn?s rings are still almost edge on to us, so that the planet is less bright to the naked eye than usual, and less beautiful in a telescope because its rings are almost invisible.

About an hour after sunset, we can see four of the five naked eye planets plus the moon, arrayed in a giant arc across the sky, the ecliptic. Where is the fifth planet? Jupiter is still hiding shyly behind the sun.

Some time this month, if you look carefully just before sunrise, you should be able to spot Jupiter as it emerges from morning twilight and begins to dominate the early morning sky. It will be low on the horizon, well to the south of the rising sun.

All of the above is described for observers in the northern hemisphere. If you live south of the equator, you will see a somewhat different set of events. The triple conjunction of the moon, Mercury and Venus will be harder to see. On the other hand, Jupiter will be much more easily visible in the morning sky. Fortunately, Mars and Saturn are equally visible no matter where on Earth you live.

This article was provided to by Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions.