KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 — Malaysians will be able to view a rare astronomical alignment over the next weeks, with five planets — Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury — set to appear together in the skies for the first time in a decade.
The celestial conjunction will last from today until the end of February, with January 27 offering an extra special view as the Moon will also come into alignment with the five planets, EarthSky.org reported yesterday.
The science website added: “Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can be seen simultaneously before dawn beginning around January 20, 2016. And they’ll remain visible before dawn from about January 20 to February 20, 2016.
“Jupiter rises first, in the evening hours, followed by Mars after midnight and then Saturn, Venus and Mercury,” on January 19.
Stargazers are advised to start their watch just after 8pm tonight. The optimum time is 12:50pm GMT today, which translates to roughly 8:50pm Malaysia time tonight.
There is no need for a telescope, but as Mercury will be very low on the horizon tomorrow, binoculars may be required.
Dr Cindy Ng, a senior lecturer at the Department of Physics at the National University of Singapore, told TODAY that Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Venus had already been visible in the skies for many days.
Mercury has just become visible as it has moved far enough from the Sun, she added.
Dr Ng described the planetary alignment as a “special event”.
“Usually, we see the five planets in the night sky at different times of the night. It is thus a special event to observe all five planets in the night sky at one time.”
Each night, Jupiter will be the first planet that will come into view. Jupiter’s sighting will then be followed by Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury.
On January 27, when the Moon comes into alignment with the five planets, Jupiter and Venus will be the brightest of the planets.
Another good opportunity to get the best view of the planets will be on the weekend just before Chinese New Year. This will be when Mercury, located near both the Moon and Venus, will be the easiest to spot.
Dr Ng also recommended the use of an astronomy mobile app to locate the planets in the night sky. “Many such mobile apps are free and are user friendly,” she noted.
One easy tip to distinguish the planets from regular stars is to close one eye, stretch out your arm and slowly pass your thumb over a bright dot in the sky, Jason Kendall, a member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York, told The New York Times.
If the dot slowly dims out when your thumb passes over it, it’s a planet. If it quickly blinks out, it’s a distant star.