Steamboat Springs Since the end of April, local astronomer Jimmy Westlake has made it a point to gaze toward the western horizon.
In nine days, an occurrence that happens about every 60 years will have passed, and the Colorado Mountain College professor is making sure he is catching every minute of this rare occurrence.
Since the end of April, the five brightest planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter can be seen all in a row with the naked eye.
"This is a chance alignment of the planets that can be viewed from Earth," Westlake said. "If this was viewed from another planet, they would all be scattered."
To view the planets is simple, Westlake said. All that needs to be done is to be outside at about 9 p.m. looking toward the western horizon, which is where the sun sets.
The peak time to view the planets is between 9 and 9:30 p.m., he said.
"This is right there every night," he said. "No special equipment is needed."
The five planets will dangle in the western horizon until May 14, which is when Mercury will no longer be visible.
The planets will be easy to spot by looking for Venus, which is the brightest out of the bunch, he said.
Jupiter is the next brightest planet and Mars is the faintest of the five, he said.
According to NASA, the planets will begin to disperse during the second week of May.
Mercury and Saturn will move toward the sun where they will disappear from view. Mercury will disappear first and then Saturn by month's end. Venus will move in the opposite direction, away from the sun and toward Jupiter.
The reason for the occurrence, which will not happen again until July 2060, is because of the planets' positions to the sun.
NASA reports that Venus and Mercury and are always close to the sun. But with Mars, Jupiter and Saturn close to the sun at this time, all five planets can be seen.
Usually the sun blocks the view of the planets, which is what happened two years ago in May when the same five planets bunched together with the sun in the middle.
With the sun in the middle, the five planets could not be seen, Westlake said.
"It is unusual to have all these planets in one place," he said. "Being able to photograph all five in one spot is unusual."
Westlake said Steamboat's evening sky is perfect to view the planets.
"Out here we have dark skies and no light pollution," he said. "It is so well placed in the evening sky. They haven't figured out how to charge people for it. It is a freebie."
Westlake, who has been teaching astronomy and physics at CMC for the past four years, said residents should take the time to view the planets.
"I would rate this occurrence on the astronomer excitement scale as an eight on a scale of 10," he said. "It is definitely rare."