A pre-dawn sky 'dance' this week will star Jupiter, Venus and Mars

Star scan: Get ready for a rare sky-watching event. Photo: DAVID RENEKE

Star scan: Get ready for a rare sky-watching event. Photo: DAVID RENEKE

What’s in the night sky this week?  Glad you asked. There’s plenty, and a nice surprise I’ll tell you about shortly.  But first, armed with your binoculars, find a nice dark place away from the glare of the street lights and pick a comfy spot either on a rug or a deck chair in which you can lay back.

Wait about 5-10 minutes and allow your eyes to adapt to the darkness.

See that band of stars stretching across the sky from one side to the other? That’s the Milky Way, full of more stars than you can count, writes David Reneke, astronomer and a writer for Australasian Science magazine.

Search along the Milky Way with your binoculars and watch for ‘fuzzy’ patches. Stop and have a look, you might have found a rich star cluster or a gassy nebula. This is called a sky scan and I do it all the time.

While you’re at it look a little to the right of the Southern Cross and pan around there too. This is a rich area for sky spotting or panning so take it slowly.

What was the surprise I promised? Get set for an unusual event because your view of the pre-dawn sky this week should be spectacular. It’s called a ‘Dance of the Planets’ and they don’t happen all that often.

What you will be able to see are the three well-known planets Venus, Mars and giant Jupiter all together in the same small part of the eastern morning sky.

They’re best observed just before sunrise until the sky starts to brighten. Venus and Jupiter are very close and rise within minutes of each other from about 5am. Mars is already there a little higher up.

A bonus on Friday will be a slender crescent Moon joining the group at the same time to top off what will certainly be a great photo opportunity.

Very close conjunctions are just a grand naked eye spectacle so bracket your shots, try different exposures and use a tripod. It can be very exciting to see more than one planet in the same field of view of your telescope. 

Some people claim when the alignments of the planets occur their increased gravity wreaks havoc on Earth.

It’s not true.

The planets’ combined gravity is insignificant and the influence of the planets that are even further away is even less.