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A Dance of the Planets - Sandy Barta

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Editor's Note: Sandy has prepared an excellent menu for planetary viewing over the next couple of months in this article. Links to information on the May 5th planetary alignment are at the end of the article. Homepage article banner contains an image of Saturn from Eric Schandall. - David Lee

CCD Image of Saturn 1999 - Eric Schandall

Look to the south-west after dusk and you will see a bright 'star': this is Jupiter. To the upper left is a dimmer, slightly yellow 'star'. This is Saturn. Draw an imaginary line between the two planets down towards where the sun set. Somewhere along this line is a very dim Mars. You are looking out onto the plane of our solar system.

We'll see the moon pass by or 'visit' each of these planets:

March 7, the moon is just below Mars
March 8, the moon is next to Mars
March 9, the moon is next to Jupiter
March 10, the moon is just to the left of Saturn

Now for some really interesting, strictly visual, astronomy - a dance of the planets:

Watch as Mars, Jupiter and Saturn move through the evening sky every evening for the rest of March - you'll see their positions change with regard to each other. Saturn and Jupiter are sinking into the west but Mars appears to be moving eastward to meet the other two planets. Pay special attention during the days between March 27 to April 3 when the three planets are very close indeed. Mars will slide to within two moon diameters of Jupiter and will cosy up to Saturn until, by April 15, it is about that far away from Saturn. The three planets are very close together in the sky. Don't miss this - you'll have to wait until 2020 to see these three so close together again. And, if you can hang on until 2040, Venus will join these three in the sky.

You'll see the moon rush by the planets again in the dusk between April 5 - 7.

At the beginning of May, Jupiter and Saturn swing around the far side of the sun. It will take Mars a few weeks before it too disappears behind the sun, but not until it dances with Mercury low in the bright western dusk. You'll need binoculars to see this pas-de-deux.

In the morning sky, on March 2 , the moon shines next to Venus in the early dawn sky (about 30 or 40 minutes before sunrise. Again, in the early dawn on March 15 and 16 (if you have VERY good eyes) you will see Mercury and Venus come to within a finger's width of each other.

The grand alignment? The end of March / beginning of April evening dance is the best we'll see of it because the five planets will be lost in the glare of dusk or on the other side of the sun. Even Uranus and Neptune are in the sun's daytime glare. A small consolation - the Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on May 5 and you'll see maybe 30 meteors per hour after midnight.

Links to the Planetary Alignment on May 5th, 2000





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Last updated: December 12, 2013

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