If watching the total lunar eclipse has got you interested in astronomy and the night sky, you’re probably wondering “What can I see next?”
Well, next week there will be a very interesting line-up of planets in the morning sky. Don’t worry, you won’t need a telescope to see them; the planets are all bright enough to be visible with just the naked eye, and will look just like stars in then sky. And to make watching this “planet parade” even more exciting, the crescent Moon will be in that part of the sky too, moving down the line of planets, from right to left, as the days pass.
As was the case with the eclipse, seeing this parade of planets will mean getting up early or staying up late, but it will be worth it to see four of Earth’s sister worlds strung out across the eastern sky before dawn, like gemstones on an invisible chain.
Ok, here’s what you’ll see… click on each image to enlarge it…
If you’re lucky you’ll be able to see this from your garden, but be aware that if you live in a built up area, with trees and buildings around you, or if you love somewhere with hills on your eastern horizon you might struggle. If you can, get out into the countryside – or at least to somewhere dark and more wide open, like a park – and you will have a much better view.
With a digital SLR camera – or a good “bridge” camera – on a tripod, or resting on something, you should be able to photograph this planetary pile-up using time exposures.
As I said, this will be clearly visible to the naked eye (although Mercury might be a challenge, being so low as the sky is brightening), but if you have or can get hold of a pair of binoculars they will enhance tour view and your enjoyment. They’ll definitely make the different colours of the planets much more obvious, and make them look brighter too. They will also show you some of Jupiter’s family of more than 60 moons, looking like tiny faint stars next to brilliant Jupiter. And with Mercury being so low, they’ll help you pick it out from the background glow.
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