Five planets will line up in the night sky. Here’s how to see the parade

(CNN) Night sky lovers can usually spot a few planets, but a stunning image takes shape in late March when five planets line up beneath the moon in a display sometimes called a planetary parade or alignment.

Viewers can get the best look at the alignment, which will include Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Uranus Tuesday evening, just after sunset. According to Cameron Hummels, a computational astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, much of the display will become visible on Friday and will continue to do so for the next several weeks.

Alignments like this appear every few years or so, Hummels said, and much of it will be visible to the naked eye, even in urban areas with significant light pollution. And it can be seen in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

The array will be visible just below the crescent moon. To view the display, Hummels recommended going to a location with a good view of the western horizon just after sunset. when streaks of the colorful sunset can still be seen and the sky is dark blue but not yet black. (Hint: the living far north should look slightly southwest while those in the southern hemisphere should face northwest, said Hummels.)

The easiest planet to spot is Venus, often referred to as the “Evening Star” because it is the brightest object in the night sky alongside the Moon. Uranus will appear close to Venus, although unless you’re viewing it from a prime location free of light pollution, it can be difficult to spot the distant planet without binoculars or a telescope.

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Below Venus and Uranus, Jupiter and Mercury will hover just above the horizon. Mercury can also be difficult to catch without special equipment, as the harsh sunlight can wipe out the planet. But for keen observers, both planets will be visible about 20 to 30 minutes after sunset, Hummels said.

The crowning of the planetary parade will be Mars sitting in a straight line above Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus and the Moon. It’s easy to spot because of its distinctive orange tint, Hummels added.

The planets will all appear “like pearls on a necklace” in the night sky, Hummels said.

Venus and Jupiter appear exceptionally close together in an artist’s rendering.

The entire alignment will only cover about 70 degrees of the sky. Hummels said one method of measuring degrees in the sky is to use the thumb or closed fist extended away from the body. An arm’s length fist covers about 10 degrees, while a thumb covers about 1 degree.

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What does that mean?

A planetary alignment of this type can occur every few years, but it’s possible to trap planets all together in an even smaller patch of sky — these occurrences are just rarer.

For example, an alignment last June was the first of its kind since 2004. The event included all five planets normally seen with the naked eye – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

Hummels said no placing too much importance on a planetary alignment.

“It’s like your car’s odometer shows a series of numbers – like it hits 44,444,” he said. “It’s cool and unusual. It just doesn’t really mean anything.”

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Fascinating celestial phenomena often adorn the night sky, he added, such as when Jupiter and Venus appeared within half a degree of each other this month.

On October 14, skygazers can expect to see a Ring of Fire eclipse. And in April 2024, a total solar eclipse will obliterate the midday sun for many in the United States.

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