Rare alignment of six planets no cause for alarm

By Clair Wood, Special to the BDN
Posted May 31, 2009, at 4:58 p.m.

Do you remember the best-selling book β€œThe Jupiter Effect,” published by John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann in 1974?

In it they proposed that a rare alignment of the planets, with the exceptions of Uranus and Jupiter, would take place March 10, 1982. The combined gravitational attraction of all these planets was supposed to trigger a series of catastrophes including a major earthquake along the San Andreas Fault. Nothing happened and Gribbin later said, β€œI’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it [the theory].”

Well, in the second half of this month, the six planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune will be in a 100-degree span above the southeastern horizon. Not to worry, however, for 25 years ago seven planets, including Pluto, gathered in a 60-degree span and nothing happened.

Focus on the planets

Mercury appears very low in the east-northeast about 30 minutes before sunrise at midmonth. Look to the lower left of Venus for the next two weeks before Mercury disappears once again into the sun’s glare.

Venus sparkles high in the east an hour before sunrise. It will continue to climb in the morning sky until it reaches it highest point in the sky during early August.

Mars, much dimmer and less noticeable than its brilliant neighbor, starts to the lower left of Venus and travels to its upper right by month’s end. On June 21, the two planets are only 2 degrees apart.

Jupiter rises shortly after midnight and is high in the south at dawn by mid-June. A small telescope can pick out surface features such as the two parallel belts on either side of the equator.

Saturn is alone high in the southwest at dusk and sets after midnight. The ring system is at even less of an incline than in May however; this gives observers an opportunity to observe the movements of its moons. On June 10, four of the moons will be bunched together on the right side of the planet.

Uranus rises in the east about an hour after Jupiter and trails the giant planet by about 30 degrees. Binoculars reveal Uranus as a blue-green dot in the Circlet of Pisces.

Neptune rises with Jupiter and remains to the upper right of the giant planet all month where it will appear as a tiny blue-gray dot using a moderately powerful telescope.

Focus on the planets

1 Sunrise, 4:53 a.m.; sunset, 8:14 p.m.

7 Full moon, 2:11 p.m. The full moon of June is called the Strawberry Moon, Rose Moon or Flower Moon.

10 The moon is at apogee or farthest distance from Earth.

13 Jupiter is to the lower left of the moon in the early pre-dawn sky.

15 Moon in last quarter, 6:15 p.m.

19 Venus, Mars, and the moon form an ascending line on the eastern horizon at dawn. Mercury is far to the trio’s lower left.

20 Look for the crescent moon just to the upper right of the Pleiades this morning.

21 Summer solstice, 1:45 a.m. The sun is farthest north of the celestial equator for the year making this the first day of summer. The sun enters the astrological sign of Cancer at the solstice but, less than half a day later, enters the astrological sign of Gemini.

22 New moon, 3:35 p.m.

23 Moon at perigee or closest approach to Earth. This event occurs close enough to the new moon to make astronomically high tides a distinct possibility.

27 Saturn is high in the west, to the upper right of the moon, an hour after sunset.

27 Peak night for the Bootid meteor shower that originates out of Bootes the Herdsman. In 1998 it gave an unexpected display of 60-100 meteors an hour and, while there is no estimate for this year, some slow-moving, bright meteors are expected.

29 Moon in first quarter, 7:28 a.m.

30 Sunrise, 4:52 a.m.; sunset, 8:25 p.m.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/05/31/living/rare-alignment-of-six-planets-no-cause-for-alarm/ printed on August 1, 2014