Monday, July 15, 2024

A “parade” of planets creates a “cosmic light bomb” for stargazers in the Gulf region


Stargazers in the Bay Area will want to look up at the sky just after sunset starting Monday: there will be a rare “parade” of five planets, weather permitting, plus a star cluster and crescent moon.

Although the “planet parade” may be visible after sunset in the next few days, the best chance is sooner than later, said Paul Lynam of the Lake Observatory at Mount Hamilton. The best chance is tonight.”

The celestial display should begin 20 minutes after sunset, or shortly before 8 p.m., According to astronomer Joe Rao. He writes that the celestial bodies will appear in the following order and move from left to right in the western sky: star cluster Messier 35, Mars, the Moon, Uranus, Venus, Jupiter and Mercury.

Find planets in the sky

Bright Venus, in the center of the view, will be the easiest planet to see. But right off the bat, you should aim to catch a glimpse of Jupiter and Mercury, Rao advises in a column for Space.comBecause they will be the first to disappear.

The two planets will be side by side, below and to the right of Venus, near the horizon where the sun just set, with Jupiter nearly twice as bright as Mercury, according to Rao.

“Mercury is lining up very close to Jupiter in the sky — a cosmic light bomb, as it were! So people can try to spot Mercury in the bright sky to the right of Jupiter,” Jeff Matthews, an astronomer at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, said in an email. Directly.” “It will definitely be a race between placing planets and darker skies!”

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Above and just to the left of Venus, Rao says, will be Uranus, shining a dull, dull green. To find Mars, first locate the crescent moon; The glowing object in its upper left will be the red planet.

The Messier 35 star cluster will be in the upper left of Mars, Rao says. Dubbed M35 for short, the cluster in the constellation of Gemini appears as a curved formation of faint lights, with a red star in the center.

Where and when to see Planet Parade

Getting a glimpse of all of this can be a challenge. First, the weather has to cooperate — and while Bay Area skies were sunny at midday Monday, the forecast called for a heavy buildup of clouds, with rain starting around 9 p.m. in North Bay and midnight in the rest of the region.

According to Matthews, Monday won’t be the only opportunity. “The positions of the planets in the sky change only gradually, so it is rare for an event to be ‘only one night,’” he said. “Tonight is when Mercury and Jupiter appear closer to each other in the sky, but their position will change slowly over the next few nights.”

“If anything, over the next few days, the chances of seeing Mercury with the naked eye will only improve, as it will continue to move higher in the sky compared to Jupiter, and therefore lower off the horizon a little later when the sky is darker.”

If the sky is clear, Rao recommends going for a flat, wide-open spot with an unobstructed view of the horizon—ideally, a west-facing coastline. While the moon and brighter planets can be seen without special equipment, a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope is needed if you want to find fainter celestial bodies like Uranus, as well as Jupiter and Mercury.

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To see the latter two, Rao advises first looking low across the western horizon with binoculars just after sunset. When you find them, just try to look with your eyes. And enjoy it while it lasts—about 30 minutes at most, Rao says, after which both planets will be lower than the horizon.

Matthews said that all the planets, including the Earth, revolve around the same plane, and therefore they seem to us to move in the same line across the sky.

A planetary alignment occurs when a group of planets line up on one side of the sun from Earth’s perspective, NASA astronomer Bill Cook told The Associated Press. They can include different planets in different numbers, and while they are not uncommon, some types are rarer than others.

In this case, for example, “seeing five planets with crescents is unusual,” said Andrew Fracknoy, chair emeritus in the astronomy department at Foothill College.

The planetary alignment that occurred on June 6 last year included the “naked eye” planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, which could be viewed without equipment and appeared in sequential order from the Sun — an event that hasn’t happened since 2004 and won’t happen again until 2040.

The alignment of the other five planets will appear in June, according to stargazing app maker Star Walkwhich includes Mercury, Uranus, Jupiter, Neptune, and Saturn.

Matthews noted that for those who want a closer view of the planets, the Foothill College Observatory at 4100 Perimeter Road in the Los Altos Hills is open Fridays from 9 to 11 p.m., weather permitting. Viewing and parking are free.

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Annie Feinstein of The Chronicle contributed to this report.

Reach out to Anna Buchmann: [email protected]

Rosario Tejeda
Rosario Tejeda
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