For the first time in almost a decade, sky-watchers this week will be able to see all five naked-eye planets over the course of one night for several nights in a row.
The classical naked-eye planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—can be seen easily without optical aids and so have been known since ancient times.
But the quintet hasn't appeared together during a single night since 2004.
What's more, this week's parade of planets will be joined in the nighttime skies by the waxing crescent to waxing gibbous moon and the superbright stars Sirius and Canopus.
"Although being able to see these objects simultaneously doesn't have any scientific value as such, it is a really fun opportunity to get a sense of how we fit in the universe," said Geza Gyuk, an astronomer with the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
"It is a bit like looking at an astronomy class in a nutshell."
Best Views for Cosmic Parade
Although the moon and the seven bright objects will all be visible in one night, they won't all appear at the same time or in the same region of the sky.
The best time to catch sight of the cosmic parade will be between February 28 and March 7. This is when the more elusive planets Mercury and Mars will be at their brightest in the evening sky for 2012, and when the moon will be above the horizon for many hours before setting.
Catching Mercury in particular is notoriously difficult, Gyuk said, because the tiny world is the closest to the sun and so never appears very far above the nighttime horizon.
The best way to find Mercury with the naked eye will be to first identify the superbright planets
Unresolved compilation problems: com.nationalgeographic.taglib.design.SiteSpecificDesignAssetIncludeTag cannot be resolved to a type com.nationalgeographic.taglib.design.SiteSpecificDesignAssetIncludeTag cannot be resolved to a type com.nationalgeographic.taglib.design.SiteSpecificDesignAssetIncludeTag cannot be resolved to a type
Cannot serve request to /content/news/en_US/news/2012/02/120228-planets-moon-night-sky-venus-jupiter-space-science.html on this server