There's a bit of a traffic jam in the eastern dawn sky over the next few days. Four of the five planets that are visible to the unaided eye are packed together within a few degrees of each other. In fact, you could easily cover up the whole bunch of them with the palm of your hand held at arm's length. Unfortunately, though, only one of the four is easy to pick out. The others are much tougher to find -- especially from the northern half of the country, where the planets rise at a shallower angle.
The easy one is Venus, the "morning star." Tomorrow, it's to the right of the Moon about 40 minutes or so before sunrise.
The other three planets trickle off to the lower left of Venus. Mercury is the closest to Venus. It looks like a fairly bright star, but you may need binoculars to see it. And a little farther to the lower right are Jupiter and Mars, standing almost side by side. Jupiter is the brighter of the two, but you'll need help to find both planets.
This configuration will change day by day. On May 10th, Venus and Jupiter will stand side by side. They're the two brightest objects in the night sky after the Moon, so it'll be a good show. After that, they'll quickly separate. Venus and Mercury will drop back toward the Sun, while Jupiter and Mars move away from the Sun. Jupiter will race into better view in a hurry, while Mars lingers in the sunlight; it won't pull into the pre-dawn darkness until well into the summer.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011
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