If you want to catch a (somewhat) rare planetary alignment in the night sky, find an open area without too much light pollution and fix your gaze west just after sunset tonight. There you will see five of our neighbors – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Uranus – lined up in an orderly fashion.
The lineup will be visible at the same time all week, but tonight should offer the best view from the United States. The planets range from the horizon line to about halfway up the sky. However, you won’t want to wait long as the row of planets will only be visible for about half an hour after sunset.
You won’t necessarily need binoculars to spot planets, but they can make your job easier — ditto for augmented reality stargazing apps like Night Sky (iOS) or Sky Map (Android). Bill Cooke, NASA astronomer said Associated Press this week that Jupiter, Venus and Mars will be the brightest and easiest to spot. He added that alignment occurs “when the orbits of the planets align them on one side of the sun from Earth’s perspective.”
Although this cosmic convergence is a fairly rare event, it only happened last summer. Plus, if you miss this week’s show, you’ll have another chance in June (albeit with a slightly different breakdown). Be sure to spot a dark spot with no tall trees or nearby buildings for the best view.