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GATHERING PLANETS IN MAY


Armagh, 2nd May 2002.
Saturn and Mars are at the top left, Venus is the very bright object and Mercury appears through the clouds.
Click on the image for the full size version.

* Images from four consecutive days
* More Images

All five planets visible to ancient astronomers can now be seen in alignment in the western sky. Viewed soon after sunset, Mercury might just be seen twinkling low on the western horizon. Next is Venus, the brightest planet or "Evening Star", followed by Mars, a much fainter red planet, then Saturn (near the red star Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus), and finally, slightly higher in the sky, the largest planet Jupiter. Including our own vantage point, the Earth, this means that every planet potentially visible to the naked eye can be seen at the same time, giving a unique perspective on the planetary orbits about the Sun.

During the next two weeks, Venus, named after the mythical goddess of love, and Mars, the god of war, will appear to move closer to Saturn on the sky, providing a good example of a "planetary massing" visible from approximately the 3rd to the 7th of May. The planets will be seen closest together on Monday 6th May, when they will lie at the vertices of a near-equilateral triangle about 2.5 degrees on each side (5 apparent lunar diameters).

Given clear skies, the trio should form a dazzling sight best viewed with binoculars. The relative motion of the planets, normally hardly noticed, will also be seen in the changing pattern of the planets from night to night. The view will be best seen from a site affording a clear view of the north-western sky.

Interestingly, these same three planets also came close together in April, 2 BC, around the time of the birth of Christ. However, whatever the astrological implications of planetary positions on the sky, there is no scientific evidence that alignments exert any noticeable physical influence on the Earth.

In the days following this event, Venus will gradually close in on Mars, and by the 10th of May the two planets will be separated by only two-thirds of an apparent lunar diameter.

Chart showing the alignment of Earth, Venus, Mars and Saturn.
Click on image for more information

See also:
Planetary Positions Pages
Space.com Article

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: John McFarland at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; e-mail: jmf@star.arm.ac.uk; URL: http://star.arm.ac.uk/.

Last Revised: 2002 May 16th
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