There's a rare treat on offer for those who like to watch the night sky. During the next three weeks or so, all the five visible planets will be on view in the sky just before dawn, an event that last occurred 11 years ago.

The five planets-Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn-appear along an arch in the sky called the ecliptic. Generally, only a few of these planets are visible in the sky at a time.

"What's rather special about the current alignment is that the five planets are currently on one side of the Sun, which means during a certain period of the night, they will all be in the sky together," said N Rathnasree, director of Delhi's Nehru Planetarium.

Technically, the planets will be in the sky in the early morning hours from January 20 to February 20. "But all five will be properly visible between January 28 and February 10. The best time to see them together will be the first week of February," said C B Devgun, founding member of NGO, SPACE.

That's because Mercury, the smallest of the planets which is also the nearest to the Sun, is currently too close to the horizon to be seen clearly from big cities such as Delhi.

"In the first week of February, Mercury will come a little higher on the horizon. So, all the planets would be in clear view around 6am, an hour before sunrise," said Devgun.

This celestial event last occurred between December 15, 2004 and January 15, 2005. The alignment will soon repeat itself in August this year, when these planets appear in the evening sky.

Some of the planets, of course, will be up in the sky much before dawn. Planets rise and set roughly along the same path as the Sun and moon. Jupiter will be the first to rise, followed by Mars after midnight and then Saturn, Venus and Mercury.

To spot the bodies, turn to the eastern horizon and look slightly to the south. The planets will rise from this point and can be seen almost along a line that traverses the sky and ends just a little north of the western horizon. Venus will appear the brightest, followed by Jupiter. Mars appears reddish.


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