By Helen William, PA
Skygazers are getting the opportunity to see two bright planets appearing close together despite being millions of kilometres apart.
The cosmic treat shows Venus and Jupiter lined up as they rise above the horizon, just before the sun follows after them.
The peak time to see this planetary conjunction, which happens once every few years, was between around 5am and 6am on Saturday but it can still be spotted on Sunday and in the coming days as the planets slowly move apart.
Despite appearing to be lined up from the vantage point of Earth, the planets are not actually in that position in space.
Dr Robert Massey, deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society in Britain, said: “In this particular case you have Venus and Jupiter (appearing) close together and because they are both bright, that’s a nice sight.”
He added: “It is fun. Is it scientifically important – no not really – but it does provide a nice spectacle.
“I think that the nice thing you can have is that with a single telescope eyepiece you can see the two planets together, which is an unusual view.”
He added: “Although they appear close together, Venus is about 150 million kilometres away at the moment and Jupiter is 740 million kilometres away.”
A clear eastern horizon is needed to see the event. Buildings, trees and hills will make it much harder to see as they will appear quite low in the sky.
Viewers in Ireland will have a harder time of trying to see the spectacle than people further south in southern Europe, Africa, or Australia, as the planets will appear to be a lot higher in the sky before sunrise.
Dr Massey said that in Ireland and the UK “it will be best to stop looking at sunrise so you are not staring at the sun, which is bad for your eyes”.
Then once the sun rises, it will be “virtually impossible” to see the event.
He also said: “You can try to spot the planets with binoculars (use an online star chart to work out where to look) but you must only do that before sunrise as looking at the sun with binoculars or a telescope can cause serious damage to your eyes – as can looking at the sun with your eyes alone.”