Which planets can I see with the naked eye at night?

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Which planets can I see with the naked eye at night?

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With the naked eye you can see these five bright planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – you just need to know when and where to look. They are visible for much of the year, except for short periods of time when they are too close to the Sun to observe. All of the planets will not normally be visible on a single night, however.

The night sky is filled with constellations, clusters of stars, the moon and planets. It provides an opportunity for star- and planet-gazers to observe celestial objects millions of light years away using locator tools and the naked eye. Since scientists and astronomers have accurately mapped the movements of all the planets we see in the sky, online websites provide free tools to identify a planet’s location in the sky during the nighttime hours.


Step One

Use longitude and latitude coordinates to pinpoint a planet's current position in the night sky. Depending on your location on Earth, the planet's position will differ. Use an online planet coordinator to help you identity the planet's position from your current location.


Step Two

Visit the Planets in the Sky website, which offers printouts as a map to the night sky. The guide allows you to find constellations and any visible planets at that time. The information from "Planets in the Sky" also tracks the right ascension along with the exact coordinates of a planet. The right ascension, or RA, represents the planet's distance and direction -- north or south -- from the celestial equator.


Step Three

Find an interactive sky charts website. Select the constellation that contains the planet. Using the constellation map provided by the website, track the dot that represents the planet. Go outside on a clear, dark night and hold up your map relative to the north direction and look for the planets.


Step Four

Look for planets with your naked eye. Planets are closer than stars and will generally be brighter in the night sky. According to Martin Powell, author of "The Naked Eye Planets," Uranus was visible to the naked eye during the months of January, October, November and December 2010, while Mercury wasn't visible at all. Online astronomy forums and news offer information regarding which planets can be seen in the upcoming months. So just stand outside, look up and seek out a shiny, bright planet that closely resembles a star.


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