How to see the rare ‘parade of planets’ next month

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune
Six planets will be visible in the sky next month - Science Photo Library RF

If you missed the recent Northern Lights displays across the UK or the blue meteor that illuminated skies across Europe, another rare astronomical event is on the horizon.

Next month, six planets will be visible in the sky at the same time, an event known as a planetary alignment or a “parade of planets”. An alignment of three or four planets is a fairly common occurrence, although the coming together of six planets happens less frequently.

Here is everything you need to know about the upcoming planetary alignment, including where, when and how to view the spectacle in the UK, plus information on the alignments to put in your calendar for 2025 and beyond.

What is planetary alignment?

Planetary alignment is when several planets in our Solar System appear in a line across the night sky. This occurs when the orbits of these planets fall on the same side of the sun at the same time, a phenomenon also known as a “conjunction”.

In the June 3 planetary alignment, the planets Jupiter, Mercury, Uranus, Mars, Neptune and Saturn (in that order) will be visible.

While the planets will appear roughly in a straight line, they will not actually form a line in space – this is a rarer event, called a “syzygy”.

When will the planets align?

As viewed from the UK, the six planets will align in the early hours of Monday June 3 2024.

When is the best time to catch the spectacle?

The alignment will be clearest around an hour before sunrise – this means setting an early alarm, as the sun will rise at 4.47am on June 3. The planetary parade will also be visible a couple of days before and after June 3.

Where can I see the planetary alignment in the UK?

The planetary alignment will be visible across the UK. To maximise your chances of catching all six planets, you should find an area with low light pollution and no obstructions on the horizon. The Campaign to Protect Rural England has an interactive map showing where you can find the darkest skies in the country, or you can seek out your nearest Dark Sky Discovery Site.

The event will be weather-dependent, of course. If the skies are clear, Jupiter will be the easiest planet to identify (it is the second brightest object in the night sky, after the moon), while Uranus, Neptune and Mercury will only be visible with a good pair of binoculars or a telescope. Note that Mercury will only appear just before dawn.

There are plenty of good stargazing apps available, including Night Sky, Star Walk and Sky Tonight, which allow you to point your phone to the sky to identify every star and planet. Note that planets do not twinkle in the way that stars do, which may help you to spot them.

How is the next planetary alignment?

After the June 3 event, put the following dates in your calendar when five or more planets will align in the night sky: August 28 2024; January 28 2025; February 28 2025; and August 29 2025.

Man looking at sky
To maximise your stargazing chances, look for areas with low light pollution - Story Picture Agency

Looking considerably further ahead, on September 8 2040, five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) will be visible in a small segment of the sky to the naked eye and a thin crescent moon will be visible between Venus and Saturn.

A full planetary alignment, when all seven major planets appear in a line from Earth, is calculated to occur once every 22 billion years or so. It is likely that a full planetary alignment, or “syzygy”, stretching out from the sun, occurs – in theory – once every 13.4 trillion years (though note that the solar system is 4.5 billion years old, and the sun will become a red giant in roughly six billion years).