For the first time in more than a decade, Minnesotans can see five planets in the morning sky — if they rise early.
The best chance to see them: Look eastward between 6:30 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. just before twilight, according to the Minnesota Astronomical Society.
The planets form a string starting with Mercury closest to the southeastern horizon, then Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter. Clayton Lindsey, president of the Minnesota Astronomical Society, notes that Uranus and Neptune can't be seen because they rise during the day.
For most of the world, the event is visible through mid-February, but gets more challenging later in the month, Lindsey said. The five planets were last visible together in 2005.
To start, observers need a good unobstructed view of the eastern horizon on a clear morning.
A society volunteer educator describes the arrangement: The planets all circle the sun, in their orbits, like hands on a clock, explained Ron Schmit. Mercury takes three months to go around; Venus takes seven. Mars takes two years, Jupiter takes 12 and Saturn takes 30.
"Now imagine all five hands, spinning on that clock, all at their different rates," Schmit said. "After a while, you notice that they are all between the 12 and the 3 … You think 'That's weird. You don't see that very often,' " he said. "That's what we're seeing in the sky."
The hardest planet to see will be Mercury as it pops up just before twilight gets too bright. Binoculars would be useful in cutting through the light pollution and haze to locate Mercury. "If it's clear skies, all five planets should be easy," Lindsey said.
Until about Feb. 20, Mercury will be rising earlier and getting gradually easier to see.
Venus will be to the upper right of Mercury. Use the "brilliant Venus" to help spot Mercury, the society suggests.
The next planet to the right: cream-colored Saturn. The planet is paired with the reddish-orange star Antares in constellation Scorpio.
All alone in Libra is Mars, with no bright stars nearby to serve as visual guides. Look for an "orangish" moderately bright "star" high up in the south sky, and that will be Mars. The planet sits halfway between Venus and easy-to-find Jupiter.
When the sky is clear, sky-gazers will see Jupiter, Mars and Saturn pull west. Mercury will rise higher until it's closer to Venus, then it will start to run "away" from Venus toward the sun. The society calls it "the dance of the planets."
As a bonus, Lindsey said the dwarf planet Pluto can be seen just above Venus with a moderate telescope.