Through Wednesday, five planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, will be bright enough to see without the aid of a telescope. The last time all five were visible to the naked eye was in 2004. They will not however, be visible all at the same time. Mercury appears right after sunset in the low West, just above the horizon. Mars will make its debut in the east shortly after, and Jupiter and Venus a half hour later. Saturn will appear around midnight in the East (look for a bright star with a yellow cast).
Wayne Westall, local astronomy hobbyist, suggests taking a trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a prime viewing spot, but says there are local places to check out as well
“One good spot is around the golf course in Nebo, just before the state park,” he said. “But really, if you can find a good hill somewhere where there isn’t light interference, you’ll have that panoramic view and then you can look for several circumpolar constellations as well.”
Northern circumpolar constellations can be seen year round. These constellations circle the North Pole and can therefore be spotted in the Northern latitudes. They include the Big and Little Dippers, Cepheus, Cassiopeia and Draco.
“They’re the prettiest there is,” he said.
Westall has been an avid skywatcher for more than 10 years. He gets up each morning at 3 a.m. to navigate the stars, and as he says, enjoy a time of peace and quiet.
“It’s really the best time to view the night sky,” he said. “It’s a good time to catch meteor showers as well; anywhere from about 2 a.m. to dawn.”
And he doesn’t use a telescope either.
“I used to, but there’s so much to see without one. Well, as long as your eyes are good.”
His favorite jewel in the sky, he says, is the Summer Triangle.
“It’s just now coming above the horizon this time of year to see. It’s made up of three constellations, Aquila, Cygnus and Lyra. I probably look forward to this the most.”
Also paired with the five planets this week will be Sirius and Canopus, ultra bright stars that are at their highest point in the sky. They will appear just after dusk. Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, and Canopus, part of Carina.