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High five: Planets line up for rare show just before sunrise

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A rare celestial lineup is visible for the next few weeks for those who know when and where to look.

From now through Feb. 20, planets will appear in the night sky one at a time until – just before the morning twilight kicks in – five of them will be visible at the same time with the naked eye, NASA says.

It'll be a little like a slow-motion introduction of an astronomical basketball team.

The biggest planet, Jupiter, will appear first during the evening. It'll be followed after midnight by Mars. Then Saturn, Venus, and finally, just above the horizon in the southeast, Mercury will round out the lineup.

The Minnesota Astronomical Society says in our area the best time to see all five will be from 6:30 to 6:45 a.m. Spotting Mercury will be the toughest, they say, and will require an unobstructed view of the southeast horizon just before it gets light.

National Geographic says the planets will all look like bright stars (not quite like the image below) with Mars, of course, being reddish and Saturn yellow-colored. Using a telescope should allow you to see Saturn's rings and maybe some of its moons.

The moon will also be part of the show through Feb. 7, astronomers say.

It's been more than a decade since all of these planets were visible at the same time, NASA says. You won't have to wait that long for it to happen again, though. They'll be lined up in the evening sky from late July through mid-August, but NASA says it will be hard to see Mercury and Venus from northern latitudes then.

In addition to the five planets and the moon, there'll be a bonus for the next few weeks. The president of the Minnesota Astronomical Society tells the Star Tribune that the former planet Pluto (now called a dwarf planet) will also be visible with a telescope if you look just above Venus.

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