Planning for planets

And a cool cruise tracker!

courtesy Tony Rice/NASA

You probably heard something about the line-up of five planets visible in our night skies right now, from Mercury to Venus to Mars, Jupiter and Uranus. However, I have a bit of advice for you space watchers.

Thanks to NASA ambassador Tony Rice here’s a quick reality check.

First, you can really only see FOUR planets, not five, and, even of those four, seeing two will be difficult. Here’s Tony’s take and he labeled the map below for easy reference:

courtesy Tony Rice, NASA
  • Jupiter is bright enough to punch through all that atmosphere at the horizon, but clutter on the western horizon will block it for many.
  • Mercury is a bit dimmer and also may be blocked by houses, trees, etc. It’s dimmer too and tricky to spot.
  • Venus is SUPER EASY to see. Just look about 1/3 of the way up the western sky.
  • Uranus is not visible to the naked eye, it requires a good pair of binoculars or a telescope. It’s so dim it doesn’t even rise to the level of “tricky to spot.”
  • Mars is nearly overhead (zenith) and will be pretty easy to pick out (it’s an orange dot).

So the lower two planets, Jupiter and Mercury, aren’t going to be glaring at you by any means and seeing Uranus will require some extra eye-help! Venus and Mars? Well, we can always see those pretty easily anyway. And one more note from Tony the sage skywatcher: “This isn’t rare. It happens every time the planets line up on one side of the Sun. Which, given Mercury’s 88-day orbit and Venus’s 225-day orbit, is about once a year. The coming days actually provide better opportunities to see Mercury as it puts another degree between it and the horizon through mid-April.”

Tony suggests more from this quick read on the big lineup. Thanks, Tony, for tips!

Maybe being on a cruise ship looking at a dark sky would be a perfect viewing spot. I was just cruising on the Norwegian Pearl last week and wished the crew well as they continued to sail to Boston. Little did I know I can check up on their travels as well as ANY cruise ship in the world! has it all with all the cruise ships out there -- just click on any boat for information from the ship’s location, its destination, the seas it is facing and the speed it’s going. I love interactive maps like this and you will, too! Here’s an example:


Have fun exploring and good luck with that planet gazing.


Email me with ideas, questions and comments!

About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with four decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.