News flash, transmitting live from under the clear pre-dawn sky: the planets are aligned this week and it’s a must-see!
I think we all are familiar to the expression the planets aligned, which we often equate with good luck. Well, imagine the luck that must be attributed to the skies overhead in this rare celestial moment.
But let’s get back to the event itself.
Six planets in our solar system (including Earth, of course) are clustered together this week, in the same neighbourhood of time and space, all of them visible to the naked eye. Jane Platt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory informs us:
From now until about Feb. 20, early risers will stand a good chance of seeing Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter simultaneously in the pre-dawn sky.
Jane also suggested that the ones that will use binoculars or telescopes would get an even better view, as some moons and ring systems were also in view using those aids.
What should the curious watchers look for in the sky and how can they tell which planet is which?
The experts tell us that we should start by looking for Jupiter in the southwestern sky, which will be shining bright white, brighter than any star in that part of the sky.
The next step is searching for the dimmer, but still very bright yellow Saturn in the south southeast, not far from the bright red star Antares. In order to find Mars, we should draw an imaginary line from Jupiter to Saturn — the dimmer but very red Mars will be found along this line, a little closer to Saturn than to Jupiter.
Afterwards, we have to extend that line eastward beyond Saturn to find the brilliant bright white Venus very low above the southeastern horizon. The least but not the last, if we will have a very low horizon in that direction we might also be able to see Mercury shining brightly below and to the left of Venus.
Now, we should try to see the bigger picture. Take a step back and let the eye embrace the whole view.
What is there left to see? Nothing but all the five planets that are roughly aligned along that imaginary line in the sky.
We have to extend that imaginary line from horizon to horizon and beyond, and imagine that line as a huge loop around the sky with us at the center of the loop, and with half of it hidden by the Earth below us. This imaginary line is called ecliptic by the astronomers and it represents the plane of our solar system.
When thinking about it, you should feel suddenly very little. That’s the effect of the beautiful cosmic display that is right in front of you.
One can only drink a coffee in the early morning and enjoy the celestial show.
Image Source: telegraph.co.uk