See 6 planets in the night sky this Christmas
Catch a planetary parade in late December 2021 to round off another great year of astronomy.
Six planets of the Solar System are going to be visible in throughout December 2021, with a beautiful planetary parade occurring over the Christmas holidays.
This will be a great astronomical event for beginners, for young astronomers and children, as well as seasoned astronomers and astrophotographers who love a bit of planetary observing and imaging.
Jupiter, Saturn and Venus are visible throughout December, but the best time to see the 6-planet parade will be from 28 December to 3 January, 30 minutes after sunset.
Because these events happen close to sunset, it's worth remembering to wait until the Sun has completely set before observing: catching the Sun with the naked eye or through binoculars or a telescope could seriously damage your eyesight.
And for help with our instructions below, remember that 1° in the sky is about the width of your little finger held out at arm's length.
5° is the width of your 3 middle fingers held out at arm's length.
And for more on 'magnitude', read our guide on understanding stars' brightness.
How to see the Christmas planet parade
Six planets will be on view in the evening twilight sky towards the end of December 2021.
Given a good flat southwest horizon, mag. –4.3 Venus appears around 7˚ up, 30 minutes after sunset.
On 28 December, Mercury and Venus are close above a flat southwest horizon, 40 minutes after sunset.
Mag. –0.7 Mercury can be seen 4.3˚ below Venus.
Over the following evenings, Mercury maintains its brightness and improves in position compared to Venus.
Mercury and Venus need a low, flat southwest horizon and will be best seen through binoculars.
Take care that the Sun has set properly before looking, though, as observing the Sun through binoculars could seriously damage your eyesight.
As Mercury and Venus approach the southwest horizon, look further east (up and left from the UK) to locate mag. –2.0 Jupiter.
Midway between Venus and Jupiter lies dimmer mag. +0.9 Saturn.
True darkness occurs just after 18:00 UT and this is the time to look for Uranus and Neptune.
Extend a line from mag. +2.0 Hamal (Alpha (α) Arietis) through mag. +5.2 Eta (η) Arietis for approximately three times again to locate a pair of sixth magnitude objects. The southern one is mag. +5.7 Uranus.
Neptune is a binocular planet too. Shining at mag. +7.9, it’s currently located 3.2˚ to the east-northeast of mag. +4.2 Phi (φ) Aquarii.
The only main planet that will be absent from the evening sky is the morning planet Mars.
This guide originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.