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5 planets could be visible in the night sky next week

The Milky Way's Galactic Center and Jupiter (brightest spot at center top) are seen from near Reboledo, department of Florida, Uruguay, early on August 24, 2020.
Mariana Suarez
/
AFP via Getty Images
The Milky Way's Galactic Center and Jupiter (brightest spot at center top) are seen from near Reboledo, department of Florida, Uruguay, early on August 24, 2020.

Look up later this month, and you might be in for an out-of-this world sight — no telescope required.

Five planets — Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus and Mars — will be visible across the night sky for many viewers on Earth around March 27 and 28.

The celestial bodies will appear in a strip of sky beside the waxing crescent moon, but experts say what you'll see will depend largely on where you are.

People with an unobstructed view of the horizon and clear skies will have the best chance of seeing Jupiter and Mercury, says Rick Fienberg, senior contributing editor of Sky & Telescope magazine.

"Wait until the sun has set and then go out and look low in that bright part of the sky where the sun has just set with binoculars, and you should see brighter Jupiter next to fainter Mercury," Fienberg told NPR.

Venus, the brightest of the bunch, will be high in the sky and easier to spot, he added, while nearby Uranus may appear faint and only be visible through binoculars. The reddish Mars will shine brightly near the moon.

Fienberg said you'll be able to see the "planetary parade" from anywhere on Earth, but those in the Northern Hemisphere might have a better view.

Though this isn't a true planetary alignment, since the planets won't be in a straight line from the perspective of the sun, Fienberg said it's still a good chance to glimpse a handful of the planets in our solar system at one time.

"Most people don't pay attention to the night sky the way astronomy enthusiasts do, so they may not realize that some of the bright dots up there are even planets," he said. "So when the planets are all visible at the same time at a particular time of the year, it becomes a news story and people suddenly pay attention to the planets."

Last summer, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn came together for a planetary alignment. It was the first time that group of planets had aligned in 18 years, and it isn't expected to happen again until 2040.

Outside of true planetary alignments, sky-watchers say it's not uncommon to observe groupings of planets in the night sky.

All seven planets other than Earth were visible at once in the night sky as recently as December.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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