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Planets on parade next month…

Insomniacs, vampires and sky watchers are in for a treat next month, when a veritable “parade of planets” will be on display in the eastern sky before dawn.

At the moment there are three planets visible in the pre-dawn sky – Venus, Mars and Jupiter – but by the middle of next month they will be joined by a fourth, Mercury, and if you go out at around half past five in the morning and look to the east you’ll see them all strung out in a diagonal line, like jewels on an invisible chain. Each morning the line will look a little different, as the Earth’s movement around the Sun and the planets’ own movements change our view, and it will be fascinating to watch the line-up shift and change over the course of a week or so.

To see this parade of planets you will need to be viewing from somewhere that has as clear and unobstructed view of the eastern sky as possible, without trees or buildings in the way. Obviously you should be somewhere with as little light pollution as possible too, to give you a nice dark sky and make the planets look beautiful and bright.

To the naked eye the planets will all look just like “stars” in the sky, but you’ll be able to tell them apart from the real background stars by a) their brightness, b) their arrangement in a line, and c) their lack of twinkling compared to the stars around them (contrary to popular belief planets do twinkle in the sky, but nowhere near as much as stars do). If you have a pair of binoculars you will be able to see up to four of Jupiter’s moons, depending on the date you look, and Venus will look like a fat cresent. Mars and Mercury won’t look much different – they’ll still look just like stars.

Here’s what you’ll see… All charts drawn for around 6am, looking to the east… click on them to enlarge them.

Oct 15

Oct 16

Oct 17

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Oct 19

Oct 20

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