NASA visualisation shows 'shallow lightning' on Jupiter
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Stargazers are in for a treat this week, with all the other planets in our solar system being currently visible in the night sky above the UK. Weather permitting, according to astronomers, viewers will be able to see Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars — in that order, from the southwest horizon going east — with the naked eye, appearing as small points of light. And with the aid of binoculars or a telescope, the ice giants of Uranus and Neptune should also be visible — the former between Jupiter and Mars and the latter between Saturn and Jupiter.
Astrophysicist Gianluca Masi of the Italian National Research Council told Newsweek: “These nights, we can see all the planets of our solar system at a glance, soon after sunset.
“It happens from time to time, but it is always a spectacular sight.”
The planets will appear to be lined up in a row this week because they all orbit the Sun in the same plane — known as the ecliptic.
The reason for this is that the planets all formed from a single spinning disc of gas and dust that swirled around the Sun in the infancy of the Solar System.
Even though the planets will appear close together in the night sky this week, they actually remain millions of miles apart, because they orbit the Sun at various distances.
To find the little parade of planets, it is likely easiest to first look for Venus and also Mercury, which will be close together just above the horizon to the southwest.
The latter will be far harder to spot — being both outshined by the 70-times-brighter Venus and disadvantaged by appearing in a relatively bright part of the night sky.
Tonight, the duo appeared just 1.5 degrees apart in the sky. Tomorrow will see the pair reach conjunction, their closest apparent approach, at around 9pm in the evening.
They will not appear so close to each other again until the year 2024.
The best view of Mercury and Venus will come around 30 minutes after sunset, with Venus the first to set below the horizon around 40 minutes later.
Of the other planets, Saturn — which will appear to be a golden shade — will remain visible until around 8pm tonight before disappearing out of view behind the horizon.
Jupiter, brighter than the surrounding stars, will follow suit just before midnight.
In contrast, Mars will remain visible all night long, having risen in the east just before sunset.
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The last time that Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were visible in the same night sky from the UK was back in June.
On that occasion, the line-up was even more special as they appeared in order of their distance from the Sun.
The last time that configuration was observable here was in the December of 2004, eighteen years previously.
The current show, meanwhile, will only be visible for a few more days — at which point Mercury will no longer be visible above the horizon.
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