How to see the 5 planets
This week (late March 2023), you’ll see five planets – Venus and Uranus, Jupiter and Mercury, and Mars – aligned in our night sky. Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project in Rome, Italy, showed them through a telescope earlier (March 29). To enjoy his presentation, check out the video below. And in addition, you can see them in the sky, perhaps, if your sky conditions are very good, and if you have a sharp eye.
The planets are located along a subtle arc in the night sky, soon after sunset, following the ecliptic, or the sun’s path across our sky. Likewise, the moon and planets also follow the ecliptic.
How do you see the planets? Go out around sunset and look west. You can easily see the brightest planet of them all, Venus.
Then use binoculars to scan next to Venus for the planet Uranus.
Then aim your binoculars lower in the sky, closer to the point of sunset. There you will see Jupiter and Mercury.
Then look higher in the sky – still looking along the ecliptic, or path of the sun – for Mars.
Virtual Telescope showed a view of all 5 planets after sunset, on March 28, 2023.
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Guide to seeing the planets
Venus and Uranus. Of these five planets, Venus is the brightest and Uranus is the faintest. These two are close together in heaven. Venus is easily visible to the eye. It will be the first “star” (actually, planet) to be seen. Uranus shines at +5.8 magnitude. That is theoretically visible to the eye. But, in practice, you’ll want a dark sky and binoculars to find it. It was about 1.5 degrees, or three moon-widths, from Venus earlier this week. Uranus will be closest to Venus on Thursday, March 30.
Jupiter and Mercury. Jupiter is the 2nd brightest planet. But it is close to sunset and can only be seen in the bright twilight. Bright skies make Jupiter harder than it would otherwise be. But Jupiter is still visible to the eye, close to sunset. And Mercury? It is fainter than Jupiter (though still brighter than most stars). But it’s close to sunset. Begin searching for the pair low on the western horizon, shortly after sunset. You’ll need a clear sky and an unobstructed view to the west to catch them. Binoculars should help. They only set about 30 minutes after sunset. So, when the sun goes down, the clock is ticking.
Mars, now the 5th planet in the night sky, was easy to find earlier this week, as it is not far from the moon in the dome of our sky. This is the bright red light near the moon on Tuesday night, March 28, 2023. Mars is bright. It is brighter than most stars. And its color is bright red. Even if the sun is far away, you can find Mars by its color, and by the fact that it doesn’t twinkle like the stars.
Some finder charts
Visit stellarium.org for accurate views from your location.
Bottom line: You have a chance to see five planets tonight and for the rest of this week. Charts and info here including where to watch it on video.
For more sky events, visit EarthSky’s night sky guide.