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Rare celestial show: 5 planets to be visible at once from Singapore

SINGAPORE — Singaporeans will be able to view a rare astronomical alignment over the next weeks, with five planets — Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury — set to appear together in the skies for the time in a decade.

Mercury makes its first appearance on Thursday, January 21. It's very low on the horizon though, so you will definitely need a clear view to the east! Photo via Science Centre Observatory Facebook

Mercury makes its first appearance on Thursday, January 21. It's very low on the horizon though, so you will definitely need a clear view to the east! Photo via Science Centre Observatory Facebook

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SINGAPORE — Singaporeans will be able to view a rare astronomical alignment over the next weeks, with five planets — Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury — set to appear together in the skies for the time in a decade.

The celestial conjunction will last from today (Jan 20) until the end of February, with Jan 27 offering an extra special view as the Moon will also come into alignment with the five planets.

The best timing to see all five planets will be around 6am, and the one of the best places will be at East Coast Park, said Science Centre Singapore. The planetary parade can also be viewed from one’s home, if there is a high and unobstructed view to the Eastern horizon. There is no need for a telescope, but as Mercury will be very low on the horizon tomorrow, binoculars may be required.

However, there may be some days, like this morning, where it will be too cloudy to see the planetary alignment.

Dr Cindy Ng, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Physics at the National University of Singapore told TODAY that Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Venus had already been visible in the skies for many days. Mercury, has just become visible as it has moved far enough from the Sun, said Dr Ng.

"Viewing Mercury is always challenging in Singapore as the planet is close to the Sun and faint, and Singapore’s sky is not very dark," she said.

Dr Ng described the planetary alignment as a "special event". 

"Usually, we see the five planets in the night sky at different times of the night. It is thus a special event to observe all five planets in the night sky at one time."

Each night at around midnight, Jupiter will be the first planet that will come into view. Jupiter’s sighting will then be followed by Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury.

On Jan 27, when the Moon comes into alignment with the five planets, Jupiter and Venus will be the brightest of the planets. Jupiter will be more or less directly overhead at 6.30am, and Venus on the eastern horizon. Jupiter and Venus can be used to locate the other planets, said the science centre. Mars will be halfway between Jupiter and Venus, and Saturn will be approximately halfway between Venus and Mars.

Another good opportunity to get the best view of the planets will be on the weekend just before Chinese New Year. This will be when Mercury, located near both the Moon and Venus, will be the easiest to spot.

One easy tip to distinguish the planets from regular stars is to close one eye, stretch out your arm and slowly pass your thumb over a bright dot in the sky, Mr Jason Kendall, a member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York, told the New York Times. If the dot slowly dims out when your thumb passes over it, it’s a planet. If it quickly blinks out, it’s a distant star.

Dr Ng also recommended the use of an astronomy mobile app to locate the planets in the night sky. "Many such mobile apps are free and are user friendly," she noted.

Science Centre Singapore said the astronomical alignment is likely to happen again in August this year. According to the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society, the five planets will then not be seen together again until October 2018.

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