The moon led a parade of planets in the sky before dawn last week. And Italian astrophysicist Gianluca Masi captured the celestial spectacle in a stunning image taken from his balcony in Rome.
In anticipation of an unusual event alignment of the five visible planets in the solar system this summer, four planets lined up behind the moon like ducks in a row. As of April 23, Saturn, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter were all visible above the horizon in the early morning hours in the Northern Hemisphere.
“This morning [April 26] I was able to enjoy the planetary parade involving Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn, plus the moon. It was an amazing sight, the four planets were very easy to see,” Masi told Live Science in an email.
The night sky photo is a precursor to a bigger planetary parade this summer, as Mercury will join the lineup in mid-June.
When the planets align
Planetary alignments occur when the orbits of the planets bring them into the same region of the sky as seen from Earth. These planetary alignments aren’t uncommon, but they don’t happen regularly either: the last time five planets aligned in the night sky was in 2020, preceded by alignments in 2016 and 2005.
These alignments take time to develop. Venus, Mars and Saturn have been neighbors in the night sky since late March. April 4 and 5they were so close together, as seen from Earth, that Mars and Saturn seemed closer than the width of the full moon in the southeastern morning sky.
Jupiter turned the trio into a quartet in mid-April. Then the moon appeared in its last quarter phase to the right of Saturn on April 23. Mars looks like an orange dot below and to the left of Saturn, while Venus is a brighter light below and to the left of Mars. Jupiter is the lowest and leftmost in the sky.
The way to tell planets from stars in the sky is by light, said Michelle Nichols, director of public observation at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.
“Stars twinkle,” Nichols told Live Science. “Planets don’t.”
Watch Planetary Alignment
The four planets will remain in their cosmic line until early July. Mercury will appear in line as early as June 10 in places with a flat eastern horizon (think Denver or the ocean-facing coast of North Carolina), leading to the final alignment of the five planets. The planets will appear to walk east to south, Nichols said. Late June will provide the best viewing conditions for the alignment.
Uranus and Neptune will also be in the northern hemisphere’s line of sight during the alignment. Uranus will be between Mercury and Mars and will be visible in areas with little light pollution. It might be possible to see it with the naked eye in dark enough skies, but binoculars will help observe it, Nichols said. Neptune will require a telescope to be seen.
“It’s just a good time to get out there and see the planets,” Nichols said.
Originally posted on Live Science.
Editor’s note: This article was first published on April 20, 2022 and updated on April 26.