"Parade of the Five Planets" in Celebration of the Chinese New Year
- Thursday, 4th February 2016
Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars and Saturn are the five planets that can be observed directly with unaided eyes. They have appeared together in the sky since mid-January this year and, weather permitting, will remain observable in Hong Kong for a few weeks. The astronomical phenomenon, known as the "Parade of the Five Planets", will still be there to greet you in celebration of the Chinese New Year - just look towards the southeast and southwest before dawn(Figures 1 and 2).
Figure 1 Schematic diagram showing the positions of the "Parade of the Five Planets" at 6:00 am on 8 February 2016 (the First Day of Chinese New Year).
Figure 2 Azimuth and altitude of the five planets at 6:00 am on 8 February 2016 (the First Day of Chinese New Year).
As Mercury can only be seen for a short time after sunset or before sunrise, the opportunity for all five planets coming into view at the same time is rather infrequent. The chart of "Time of Rise and Set of the Sun and Planets" in the Almanac published by the Hong Kong Observatory (Figure 3) is a handy tool to track the occurrence of this phenomenon. As an example, one can deduce from the chart that following the sunset at 18:15 on Chinese New Year Eve (7 February 2016), the five planets in the sequence of Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury will appear respectively in the Hong Kong night sky at 20:37 that evening, 00:43,02:42,05:09 and 05:26 after midnight. In other words, the five planets will line up in the sky for all to observe from about half past five in the morning till daybreak on the First Day of Chinese New Year (8 February 2016).
Figure 3 Times of the rising and setting of the Sun and the planets in Hong Kong during 2016. Areas in yellow indicate the periods when all five planets can be observed in the sky after sunset and before sunrise.
Similar phenomenon will occur again between mid-July and early September this year, but the locations of the planets will be different and the observable periods will be in the evening before the setting of the five planets. Those who would like to test their astronomical knowledge are welcome to try out the "Time of Rise and Set of the Sun and Planets" chart to determine the timing of occurrence for the phenomenon (http://www.hko.gov.hk/gts/astron2016/2016rise-set.pdf).
Astronomy unit of the Hong Kong Observatory
(David Hui, Otto Cheng, KC Fung, WK Wong and SC Chee)
2016 Almanac (web version): http://www.hko.gov.hk/gts/astron2016/almanac2016_index_e.htm
"Hong Kong Observatory Almanac 2016": http://www.hko.gov.hk/press/D4/2015/pre20151123.htm
Weather Information for Astronomical Observation: http://www.hko.gov.hk/gts/astronomy/astro_portal.html