The stars have aligned - or at least the planets - and on March 28 five planets will be visible to astronomers in the northern hemisphere. Jupiter, Mercury, Uranus, Mars and Venus will line up in a major planetary alignment shortly after sunset. While the alignment of two or three planets is quite common, it is a rare treat to see five gracing the sky at once.
Mercury and Jupiter will be visible near the horizon, while Venus will shine higher in the sky and Mars will be near the first quarter of the moon. These four planets, especially Mercury and Jupiter, are easy to spot. But not all planets will be visible to the naked eye. Due to its distance from Earth, binoculars or a telescope are essential to see Uranus.
If you're interested in seeing a planetary alignment, there are apps to help you figure out what to expect. For example, you can use the Sky Tonight app to quickly discover planets in the sky at your location and their visibility. In fact, your location as well as weather conditions are the main factors in whether or not you will be able to see this rare event. "Unless you have clear skies and an almost flat western horizon with no obstructions like trees or buildings, you won't see Jupiter and Mercury," says Rick Finberg, senior editor at Sky & Telescope.
And if for any reason you miss this major planetary alignment, don't worry. Two smaller events are planned for April. On April 11, Mercury, Uranus, Venus and Mars will appear in the sky. And then a few weeks later, on April 29th, the same band does an encore.