Rare Planetary Alignment Thursday: The Moon, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn
Getting up early is always a difficult experience. It can be disheartening to have to climb out of bed while it's still dark out and head out into the cold outside world before the sun has risen.
Difficult as it might be to be up before sunrise, there is a good reason to do so this week—especially if you're a fan of stargazing.
In a particularly special celestial event this Thursday morning (March 8), three of the planets in the solar system (and one former planet) will align with the moon to draw a spectacular line across the sky.
If you're eager enough to awake early for the spectacle, or you happen to be wandering around in the wee hours of the morning already, cast your eyes southward at just before dawn to see, from East to West, Jupiter, the moon, Mars, Saturn, and Pluto.
If you're up early this week, check out the planetary alignment! pic.twitter.com/bFiHUuLaJo— Matthew Loffhagen (@kotorcomics) March 6, 2018
Alas, Pluto will be too dim to actually be visible to the naked eye, but if you are a budding astronomer and you own a powerful enough telescope, it'll be unusually easy to spot the dwarf planet's distant light amid the stars, as all you'll need to do is trace down the line made by all the other, brighter planets.
How to Watch
If that doesn't work for you, or if you happen to run into some unfortunately cloudy weather, there will be other options—this planetary alignment will last for a few days, and while it'll be at its most impressive on Thursday, every night for the rest of the week you should be able to see the moon passing by various planets in the sky.
On the night of March 7, the moon will be right next to Jupiter, and by March 9, it'll instead be next to Mars. The next night will see the moon paying a visit to Saturn, and our planet's largest natural satellite will then continue on its merry way until it's right next to Pluto on March 12, so if you have a particular interest in seeing this distant light and you have the right kind of telescope, you should be able to spot it by looking slightly to the right of the moon next Monday night.
Each planet in this line will rise at different times throughout the night, so if you're not really an early bird, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the show before going to bed. Jupiter will appear at midnight, Mars will rise at 2 a.m., and Saturn will rock up fashionably late at 3 a.m., just when the party starts to get interesting.
For anybody who's willing to forego some sleep (and who is lucky enough to get clear skies at some point this week), the alignment will be a fascinating chance to spot a bunch of planets all at once.
Ask someone special on a date, take them to a nice and secluded spot, point out all the planets in the sky, and bask in the science street cred that comes from knowing your astronomy. It'll be a perfect chance to cuddle up close for warmth, and the planetary glow is the most romantic mood lighting in the solar system.