Searching for a few nights of entertainment at no cost?
Turn to the west-northwest sky after sunset beginning today through Thursday.
An unusual event will occur just above the horizon: the tightest three-planet grouping until 2026.
Experts refer to the alignment of Venus, Jupiter and Mercury as the “dance of the planets.''
Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest planets, have been working their way toward each other this month.
Tonight, the third-brightest planet in the solar system, Mercury, will rest just to the upper right of Venus.
“Mercury and Venus can come close together fairly often,'' said David Kriegler of the University of Nebraska at Omaha physics department, because “they are inferior planets, or inside our orbit.''
“It is just the luck of the draw that Jupiter, in its journey across the sky, is in the correct position in its orbit to align with the inner two,'' he said.
Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will fit within about a 5-degree circle of each other. A stargazer should be able to view the three planets at the same time. For a better view, use binoculars.
The grouping will be at its closest Sunday night, when the planets will fit within about a 2.5-degree circle.
“May 26 is the best grouping, and tightest,'' Kriegler said.
After Sunday, Jupiter will gradually move down in the night sky. By early June it will fade away.
Kriegler said the dance of the planets is “not that rare, but seeing Mercury is a hard feat, since it sets so soon after the sun.''
Sunset will be about 8:45 p.m. the next few nights. The planets should come into their best viewing about 45 minutes later.
Meanwhile, the best nighttime entertainment of the year is months away.
“Comet ISON is still on track in late November to put on a spectacular show,'' Kriegler said.
Some are saying ISON has the potential to be the “comet of the century” because around the time it makes its closest approach to the sun, it may become brighter than the full moon.
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