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'If you manage to see Uranus, that's a treat': 5 planets aligning in the sky this week


A parade of planets will be visible between the horizon and the moon just after sunset Tuesday night and for the next few days, offering sky-gazers a chance to explore the solar system with just a pair of binoculars.

Planetary alignments aren't especially rare, but this week's is notable because of how all five bodies will be visible in the same relatively small section of sky.

Jeremy Heyl, a professor of physics and astronomy at UBC, told CTV News there were five planets visible at once back in January, as well, but they were spread across the sky.

This week, the alignment is happening right after sunset, with Jupiter and Mercury visible low on the horizon, close to where the sun was last seen. Venus, Uranus and Mars will all also be visible in a line between the horizon and the crescent moon, Heyl said.

"The planets all orbit around the sun in the same plane that the Earth is orbiting around the sun, so they actually form a line across the sky when you can see lots of them," he said.

"The tricky thing (this week) is, Jupiter and Mercury – and Mercury is very hard to see, usually, because it's so close to the sun – they'll just be peeking above the horizon. So if you wait too late or if you're in a place where you can't see out towards the west, you know, they will have set."

Tracing the line of planets back toward the moon, stargazers will see "an absolutely dazzling object," Heyl said.

"That's Venus," he said. "You will not mistake Venus."

Very close to Venus – and likely too faint to see with the naked eye from an area with a lot of light pollution like Metro Vancouver – will be Uranus.

People with binoculars should have an easier time seeing the solar system's seventh planet, which Heyl said looks quite blue.

"If you manage to see Uranus, that's a treat," he said.

Finally, closer to the moon, Mars will be visible and looking "quite red," according to Heyl.

The key to distinguishing planets from stars, the UBC professor said, is that stars twinkle. Some planets, like Venus and Mars, show up very bright in the night sky, but they give off a consistent light, rather than fluctuating in brightness or colour the way stars do.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Spencer Harwood Top Stories

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