Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

March 16, 2004

NIU observatory hopes to capture quintuple planetary display

DeKalb, Ill.--Stargazers will get an unusual treat over the next few weeks as all five planets visible to the naked eye appear together in the evening sky.

Of course, a high-powered telescope will provide an even better view. So the NIU observatory at Davis Hall will hold special viewing sessions from 6:30 to 10 p.m. on both Friday, March 19 and Friday, March 26.

Both sessions are free and open to the public, although they will require clear skies. The five planets that can be seen with the unaided eye are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.

"It's unusual that they're all visible at the same time," observatory manager Andrew Morrison said. "We won't have a better view of all five planets at once for more than 30 years."

Mercury will only be visible during the early evening, so observatory visitors who want to see all five planets should show up between 6:30 and 7 p.m. "Mercury is the most rare to see with the naked eye because it's always so close to the sun," Morrison said.

The observatory also will keep its normal hours, from 8 to 10 p.m. each week on Tuesday and Thursday. The NIU Department of Physics operates the observatory, which is equipped with a high-powered Celestron 14-inch telescope, an 85-mm refracting telescope, binoculars and digital cameras.

Private viewings or group tours can be arranged by contacting Morrison at or by calling the physics department at (815) 753-1772. E-mail is preferred. For directions to Davis Hall, see