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Amateur astronomers are in for a treat this weekend when five planets in the solar system align.
Planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will align from Friday 2 June. The alignment should be able to be seen by the naked eye so no need for telescopes or fancy equipment either.
This event has not been seen in the northern hemisphere since December 2004. Whilst one or two planets lining up is common, to have five is highly unusual.
Prof Beth Biller, personal chair of exoplanet characterisation at Edinburgh University’s institute for astronomy, commented on the unusual alignment.
She told the Guardian: “This is really cool. We now know of many other stars hosting multiple planets.
"This is a rare opportunity to see the same thing closer to home, with all five ‘naked eye’ planets in our solar system visible at once.”
For those wanting to see the planets lining up, you’ll need to get up early on Friday. The best view will be approximately 4.30am, as Mercury becomes visible but just before sunrise.
Don’t panic though, if you miss it then you’ll have the chance to see it again with the moon joining the line up on Friday 24 June; but again before sunrise.
Dr Greg Brown, the public astronomy officer at Royal Museums Greenwich, said Jupiter and Venus will be the easiest to spot on the initial line up.
He said: “Your only chance to see all five planets at the same time is during a very narrow window after Mercury has risen but before the sun has.
“A pair of binoculars or a telescope may well be enough to overcome the twilight in the case of the fainter planets, but do be very careful when trying to observe particularly Mercury in this way. Ensure that the sun is below the horizon to avoid accidentally looking directly at it, which would be very dangerous for your eyes.”
The planets will appear to align in an imaginary line in the sky called the ecliptic and will appear above the horizon in the early hours of Friday.
At the end of June, keen stargazers might find it easier to spot planets like Mercury in the line up.
The sight on 24 June is expected to be an 'extraordinary scene', according to Dr Samantha Rolfe, the principal technical officer at the University of Hertfordshire’s observatory.
Rolfe explained: "You do not need binoculars or a telescope if you don’t have them – just enjoy the sight from wherever you can, even if you can’t see all five from your location.
"Check the weather forecast for clear or even partially clear skies, and set an alarm – it will be worth getting up for."
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