A celestial line-up - see 5 planets before dawn

Astronomers are currently making the most of a rare astronomical alignment. For the first time in over a decade, all five naked-eye planets are huddling together in the early morning sky. Royal Observatory astronomer Colin Stuart explains how to see them...

5 planets in dawn sky, Jan 2016

If you get up just before the Sun rises then you’ll be treated to a view of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. To catch this spectacle for yourself it's best to start by facing south. It also pays to have a fairly clear horizon on either side of you with few trees or buildings to block your view. You are looking for objects that at first appear to be stars but that do not twinkle. 

The first planet you’re likely to spot is Venus over in the south-east. It is dazzlingly bright, not only because it is the nearest planet to the Earth, but also because it is enshrouded in huge banks of highly reflective cloud.

From here, turn your attention slightly further eastwards (left). You are looking for the much dimmer Mercury. It's the hardest of the five planets to spot - a pair of binoculars would really help. 

Next, move your gaze round to the south-west and look for the bright planet Jupiter. Not quite as brilliant as Venus, but you’ll still have no trouble spotting it. Using Venus and Jupiter as bookends will now allow you to hunt down Mars and Saturn in between. The former can be found roughly halfway between the Venus and Jupiter. You should be able to make out its famous red colour.

Once you’ve located Mars, you can complete the quintet by tracking down Saturn which sits halfway between Mars and Venus.

If you need some further help, the Moon sidles up to Mars on the morning of 1 February, passes close to Saturn between 3 and 4 February before hovering above Venus and Mercury on 6th.

You’ve got until around mid-February to catch all five of them so don’t miss this once-in-a-decade opportunity.

See what's in this month's night sky in the Sky Tonight planetarium show

Check out our range of recommended telescopes and binoculars