The celestial show, best viewed between June 17 and June 27, will be the last time the five brightest planets cluster in the sky until 2040.
A grand celestial reunion is due in Earth’s skies throughout June. Sky-watchers will get a rare chance to see all the major planets in our solar system bunched together—with the moon joining the festivities, too, from June 17 to June 27.
This rare alignment includes the five planets easily spotted with the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Each is bright enough to be seen even in light-polluted city skies, with brilliant Venus being the brightest and Mercury the faintest. Our closest planets will appear to be arranged across the sky in the same order as their distance from the sun.
Astronomers call these planetary close encounters conjunctions. Having two or three planets huddled together is not all that rare, but the last time we saw a conjunction the five brightest planets was in December 2004.
The more distant Uranus and Neptune will also cluster in the same area, though the two ice giants will be more challenging to spot, requiring the use of binoculars. Scan between Venus and Mars to find green-tinged Uranus, and blue Neptune can be found between Jupiter and Saturn in the sky.
This planetary alignment can be glimpsed by the vast majority of the world’s population, but some will be better positioned than others. For those in the northern latitudes, above cities like New York and London, the planet closest to the sun, Mercury, will be near the horizon and may be washed out by the glare of dawn. In these regions, the other planets will also hug the eastern horizon, making it a bit of a challenge to easily see all the planets.
As the month progresses, however, Mercury will appear higher in the sky, making it easier to spot. For observers even farther north, like those across Scandinavia and in northern Alaska where the sun never sets at this time of the year, the planets won’t be visible at all.