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Space Science

Three Planets Racing this Weekend 164

William Robinson writes "This report asks you to keep your eyes on the skies this weekend, when a rare triple-planetary alignment is going to happen. It promises a stellar show for star-gazers. Scott Young of the Manitoba Museum Planetarium says the planets in question -- Mercury, Venus and Saturn -- are all big enough to be seen without a telescope."
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Three Planets Racing this Weekend

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Time to go and dig some mummies in Egypt
  • by Mulletproof ( 513805 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @12:15PM (#12909289) Homepage Journal
    " And while star-gazers will be able to obscure all three planets simply by holding their outstretched thumb to the sky, Young reminds them appearances can be deceiving.

    "In reality, the planets are millions of kilometres apart," he said. "They only appear close in the sky because of our perspective. Saturn is actually over a billion kilometres behind Mercury."

    Oh thank God. I thought they were all going to crash into one another, showering the earth with deadily meteors or something. THANK YOU for thet reminder, Mr. Young.
    • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:09PM (#12909515) Homepage Journal
      Thing is, the conjunction isn't really all that interesting, scientifically. It's interesting mostly because it's rare, and it's a way to get the vigorously nonscientific to actually watch the planets move across the sky. Go out on two successive nights and you can watch them move relative to each other.

      No biggie for your college-educated, Slashdot-reading brain, but a lot of people are bored stiff by science. Turn on Jeopardy some day and watch as the board clears of every category except Science. Not always, but too often.

      There's an awful lot of people who don't really get how the planetary orbits work, and probably DO think that they would collide. I bet you know at least some of them. Take them out and show them the conjunction. Take them out on successive nights and describe how we can figure out the heliocentric universe from the observations.
      • by TrappedByMyself ( 861094 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @02:00PM (#12909729)
        Take them out on successive nights and describe how we can figure out the heliocentric universe from the observations.

        "After our first date I couldn't get a hold of her. I even left a message telling her how I would teach her how to figure out the heliocentric universe from our observations. Hmmm, she must have left town for an emergency, but lost my number and couldn't call. Let me sit by the phone and wait."
        • Data's Eighth Poem

          Written By: Brannon Braga

          Then we sat on the sand for some time and observed,
          How the oceans that cover the world were perturbed
          By the tides from the orbiting moon overhead.
          How relaxing the sound of the waves is, you said.

          I began to expound upon tidal effects
          When you asked me to stop, looking somewhat perplexed.
          So I did not explain why the sunset turns red
          And we watched the occurrence... in silence... instead.
      • Take them out and show them the conjunction. Take them out on successive nights and describe how we can figure out the heliocentric universe from the observations.

        The funny thing is by the same "taking someone out and showing them", you can explain geocentric or sphere-based universes to them just as well, and they would believe it, too. And if anything remotely bad happened this weekend, they'd probably be gullible enough to believe it's because of the planets.

        • True enough. You have to talk about things like Mars and its weird movement in a geocentric universe, which is hard to observe without taking a lot of time. But the conjunction at least gives you an opportunity to talk about how the measurements are made. It gives you the opportunity to make the planets real, more so than just pointing to one particular point of light and saying, "Hey, that one's Jupiter".
  • Planet spotting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tolkienfan ( 892463 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @12:15PM (#12909293) Journal
    Mercury is actually quite hard to see because it's close to the sun - you can only catch it at certain times of the year and only ever close to dawn and dusk.

    Venus is similar - but less so.

    Saturn is often in the sky, and is a beautiful sight through a telescope.

    I can't wait to see them all so close together - Let's hope for clear skies!

    • Re:Planet spotting (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Although I can't admit to being much of a stargazer, I thought Venus was visible all but year round... Isn't that how it got the whole Morning Star, Evening Star reputation?
      • It does switch between evening/morning star, but in between times, while the planet is either directly in front of the sun relative to us, or behind the sun, or when it is so close to the sun that it's glare usually drowns it out, then you're not going to be able to view it. Mercury switches between morning/evening as well, even faster than Venus.
  • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @12:18PM (#12909297)
    This event has convinced me to buy a telescope! I must see this first hand. What sort of telescope would be ideal for an amateur astronomer such as myself to view such a planetary event?
    • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @12:21PM (#12909322) Journal
      If you are just starting, get some binoculars.

      Binoculars and a star chart.

      • Also, get the book 'Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe' by Terence Dickinson.
      • If you are just starting, it might also help if somebody told you where to look:
        I'm new to stargazing but I downloaded Celestia ( free [shatters.net]) and flew over to the upper hemisphere of earth and set the date to tonight (June 25). You can find the planets by watching where the sun sets. The planets will set at that same spot about 2 hours later. They will be moving down and to the right at almost exactly a 45 degree angle to the horizon. So that means that after sundown, you can look up and left of that spot to find
      • by res ipsa loquitur ( 830489 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @04:12PM (#12910305)
        " If you are just starting, get some binoculars."

        As someone who has used both binoculars & telescopes as an amateur, I would like to second this advice. Here are some specific reasons why:

        Movement. Telescopes all seem to have at least one direction reversed (in other words, to move the field to the right you need to move the telescope to the left. Or up/down is reversed.) This is not something that you get used to after 5 minutes - it's an ongoing frustration. And it's important because of:

        Field of vision. Telescopes tend to have a smaller field of vision, often something like 2 degrees (I'm going from memory here.) That may not sound bad, but in practice it can become a major hassle as you have to constantly move the telescope to keep things in your field of view. Also, you often want to view larger areas of the sky at one time without having to move your telescope. And given the movement problem (above), you will find yourself adjusting the telescope the wrong way about half of the time. Stupid? Yes. Frustrating? Double-yes.

        Ease of use. Telescopes require setup time. Binoculars require removal of the lens caps. This is one of those things that doesn't seem like a big deal in the store, but in real life it will quickly become a major issue (unless you leave you telescope planted in one place all of the time, which I don't think is an ideal situation for an amateur.) You want to be able to scan the sky with your bare eyes & then _immediately_ use your magnifying device to look at something specific. You do _not_ want to mess around with tripods and sighting scopes just to see the latest thing that caught your fancy. Binoculars win big here. Don't underestimate the usefulness of binoculars' quick reaction time. In my view, this is the most important factor to consider; if it isn't easy to use, you won't use it.

        For the record, I'm an amateur who has owned and used both inexpensive binoculars and an inexpensive telescope. I would _hands down_ recommend the binoculars. Get practical experience, and _then_ shop for a telescope.

        One more thing. Binoculars are much more kid-friendly than telescopes, so if you're a parent trying to interest your children in astronomy, add that to the above reasons.

        I hope this helps.
    • What sort of telescope would be ideal for an amateur astronomer such as myself to view such a planetary event?

      The event itself (meaning the triple-constellation) is probably best observed with the naked eye, or a simple pair of binoculars, because any decent telescope will have a smaller field of view than the area the three planets will be spread out over.

      Even with binoculars (when mounted to a tripod), you will be able to see a faint indication of Saturn's rings (indicated by the fact that it doesn't

    • I too must see this first hand. Except last time I was checking out some bizarre astrological alignment, I was disappointed to observe nothing.

      How about some more info? Is there a site that says what time U.S time zone the alignment might appear on. What exact direction on a compass? You know, something a noob can follow. I got my binoculars and camera ready, but that's all I have. Please help.

      • Is there a site that says what time U.S time zone the alignment might appear on. What exact direction on a compass?

        There are lots of astronomical programs. One small, simple and free one is Starcalc [m31.spb.ru]. Just set it up with your latitude and longitude and it'll show you the sky at any time past present or future. Anyway, this shows that this is not a brief duration event like an eclipse but the three planets are very close over several days.

    • DYI [howstuffworks.com] it's easy and you get geek points.
    • Dobsonian telescopes are very easy to use, beginner models are not very expensive and at the same time, you get the most bang for your buck, because the morror sizes on dobsonian telescopes tend to be a lot bigger than on refractors you would get at department stores for the same price. You can get a 4.5" Orion SkyQuest dobsonian telescope for $199 and really see a lot with it, tyr this url http://www.telescope.com/shopping/product/detailma in.jsp?itemID=364&itemType=PRODUCT&iMainCat=4&iSub [telescope.com]
  • Light pollution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sckeener ( 137243 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @12:18PM (#12909300)
    Considering I live in Houston, I doubt I'll be seeing anything. Light pollution is atrocious. When I want to see the night sky, I have to go camping.
    • At least camping is an option. I live on the East Coast, and real darkness is many hours away. And even then the horizons are usually obscured by trees. But even I can see the conjunction.

      I'm sure the light pollution is pretty bad in Houston, but Saturn and Venus are easily visible even against that, and given those indicators it's not hard to find Mercury. You may have to go to the 'burbs rather than in the city proper, but I bet you could find it on top of a large building. The planets are pretty bright,
      • At least camping is an option. I live on the East Coast, and real darkness is many hours away.
        For those unfamiliar with the East Coast (of the US), the above poster is exaggerating - quite a bit. I can think of half a dozen places on the East Coast where real darkness is no more than two hours away, and usually less. (I suspect the parent lives somewhere in BosWash and confuses that with the rest of the Coast.)
    • ...the moon!

      ok ok stop throwing things!

      Seriously, I'll bet the view from the moon or other Earth orbit, would be spectacular.
      Imagine: Mercury, Earth, Venus and Saturn together in the sky...

      Oh to be an astronaut...

    • Considering I live in Houston, I doubt I'll be seeing anything. Light pollution is atrocious. When I want to see the night sky, I have to go camping.

      Posh. I live in Clear Lake (far SE side of Houston for non-locals) and I could easily see saturn and venus last night. Driving a half hour longer would get me a full view.
  • by GreatRedShark ( 880833 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @12:19PM (#12909304)
    I want to know what odds the people in Vegas are giving to Mercury. I've got a lucky feeling about that planet!
  • Longhorn (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Next year, the planets will all align themselves to spell out the word, Longhorn, to kick off Microsoft's new advertising campaign for the upcoming version of Windows. This of course, all depends if thier wireless networks can't be hacked again while they are sending the signals to the planets.
  • by amstrad ( 60839 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @12:20PM (#12909314)
    Some people are idiots [harmonicconcordance.com]. Other people are not [badastronomy.com].
    • I love how "Some people are idiots. Other people are not" gets modded "3, Informative".

      I have some others: some people are conservative, others are not. Some people eat meat, others do not. Some people read Slashdot, others have a social life.

      Come on mod points. I'm ready for you!

      Seriously though, if you haven't seen Bad Astronomy, do. Go to it. It rocks.
  • " "What we're seeing is the clockwork of the solar system," Young said." ...Which is what we see 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But thanks for pointing out the obvious. I'm still trying to decide who is responsible for this innane conversation, that Young guy or the person asking him to expound on the alignment.
    • You go to school for 7 years, get an advanced degree, and work hard in your field. Then answer stupid grade-school science questions from someone who doesn't believe that we went to the moon, thinks the earth was created in 144 hours, believes that their cat was abducted by aliens six times (thus explaining her six litters), and doesn't remember which way the heliocentric vs geocentric affair turned out. Repeat every two or three days for several years. Let's see if you don't start talking down to people
  • Correction (Score:4, Funny)

    by QuickFox ( 311231 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @12:21PM (#12909323)
    It promises a stellar show for star-gazers.

    I'm afraid you've misunderstood this. It's not a stellar, it's planetary.
    • Damn, you beat me to it. By the way, have you jumped over any lazy dogs lately?
  • by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @12:22PM (#12909324) Homepage Journal
    When aligned, the planets will fit into a piece of sky the same size as a full moon.

    Is that the low hanging moon [slashdot.org] or the smaller moon?

  • To catch the show, go outside after sunset today and find a spot with a clear view of the western horizon,...

    man that sounds like alot of effort. How about if I just bookmark the 'planet' tag over at Flickr?
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/planet/ [flickr.com]

  • by Sv-Manowar ( 772313 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @12:25PM (#12909339) Homepage Journal
    After a six car US F1 GP, only three planets racing this weekend?
  • Are there any simulations of this event that we can view online? Indeed, I would even enable Flash to watch such a simulation!

    Or is this the sort of thing you need a Cray and hundreds of thousands of lines of Fortran to model accurately?
  • Time could be helpful...
    • From the article: "To catch the show, go outside after sunset today and find a spot with a clear view of the western horizon, Young said. As the sky darkens, Venus will be the first astral body to emerge, as it's the brightest object in the heavens after the sun and moon. Mercury and Saturn will show themselves soon afterward -- both being about as bright as the other, and shining with a pale, yellowish light."

  • by busman ( 136696 ) *
    For some informative information on this "rare" event have a look
    at http://www.universetoday.com/am/publish/conjunctio n_mercury_venus_saturn.html?2362005/ [universetoday.com]
  • From TFA: Young describes Mercury as an "elusive planet," noting most people, astrologers included, have never seen it.

    I don't see how this is so unusual, since it's an astrologer's job to look into the future, not to look into space (that would be an astronomer's job).

    • It's their job to look into the future by looking at the positions of the stars and the planets. You put Mercury on a birth chart and use it to work out personality traits, and conjunctions of it with something else are of course important


      • >> It's their job to look into the future....

        Not exactly a job...unless one considers palm and tarot readers to be valid jobs as well.


      • It's their job to look into the future by looking at the positions of the stars and the planets.

        They look at the positions of the stars and planets, but they don't actually look at the stars and planets themselves. Why bother when the motions are so highly predicatable? I don't think I've even seen mention of actual observation as part of astrology.

        Astronomers are the ones who observe the stars and planets; astrologers wear brightly coloured clothes, have poor taste in home furnishings and exploit

    • noting most people, astrologers

      Maybe the astronomer was taking the piss out of astrologers. He must get pretty tired of questions related to that and was implying thy have no idea of what's in the real sky (such as the actual postions of the planets, which are hundreds of years out of phase with their "houses").

  • Looks like it's time to cue "Also sprach Zarathustra," by Richard Strauss.

    (for the ill-informed, it's the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey that goes: duhhhh....duhhh....DUHHHHHH... [dun dun dun dun dun dun])

  • I assume the phrase triple alignment arises because we see three planets near each other in the sky, but this really means that four planets (counting Earth) are nearly in line with each other.
    It's probably not so uncommon for three planets to be nearly colinear, it's just rare that we are in a colinear position to see them.
  • Need a starchart? (Score:2, Informative)

    by lethalwp ( 583503 )

    If you need a good starchart to find stars/constellations/planets, i have one big recommendation for you, it's called skymap:
    http://skymap.com/products.htm [skymap.com]

    you can use it in a demo version which is already very useful for a starter.

    Way to go! =)
    • Or, if you want, you can try XEphem [clearskyinstitute.com] a program written for X-windows (and hence will run on Linux!). It is free (as in beer) for non-commercial use. The license isn't GPL or anything like that, for you purists, however, when it comes to ephemeris software, I don't think there are enough options out there to be too picky about the license.
  • by PingXao ( 153057 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:07PM (#12909507)
    I almost fell out of my chair when I RTFA. "Mercury is a planet few people, even astrologers, have ever seen." WTF? Is this Slashdot or the Nancy Reagan hotline [time.com]? There's a better article at Sky and Telescope [skyandtelescope.com] without any of the mumbo jumbo.
  • The first stage of the alignment has started! It only happens once every five thousand years, and evil people are ready to find the triangle and take over the world if someone doesn't stop them!!!!

    Out of curiosity, does a full alignment of the planets only happen once every 5,000 years?
  • My cult and I have known about this for years, we're having a Kool-Aid party in honor of our impending transformation.

    I trust you all will marvel at our new godhood!
  • that Earth is BETWEEN Saturn and Venus, there fore the only planet's we'll see lined up are Mercury and Venus?
  • From the article:

    Young describes Mercury as an "elusive planet," noting most people, astrologers included, have never seen it.

    Surely the article meant astronomers. Since when have astrologers ever taken an interest in actually looking at the night sky (other than to determine, of course, what tomorrow's horiscope brings)?

    • ...other than to determine, of course, what tomorrow's horiscope brings

      Even then there would be no point. Mundane astrology (the kind concerned with horoscopes) has never accounted for the precession of the equinoxes. Therefore, the tables (which are based on tables from Babylonia over two-thousand years old) have long since ceased to have any relation to the actual positions of the stars.

      Perhaps they mean natural astrology, which, IIRC, is an old term for astronomy.

      While were at it, though others

    • Well, the "Winnipeg Sun" just got crossed off my list of respectable news sources.
  • Literally just before reading this story, I was playing 'Elite II' and trying to navigate to Mercury. If course Elite II isn't the best game in the world, and the task was impossible, as I flew up and down, each time missing and ending up 1+ AU on the other side. Apparently the designers didn't think to give you proper control over your accelerators, nor to give you your speed relative to your destination, but instead to some arbitrary object. So when going to Mercury, my speed was relative to Jupiter, maki
    • I was playing 'Elite II' and trying to navigate to Mercury ... the task was impossible, as I flew up and down, each time missing and ending up 1+ AU on the other side.

      What part of 'elusive planet' was unclear?

      • It's not just that, it's every planet. The whole game's unplayable. But I suppose that's what happens when you write something in assembly.
        • It's a real shame. I used to play the original Elite on an Apple ][e. Vectorish-graphics aside, it was enthralling.
          • I dunno, maybe in 1984 that was relatively decent entertainment. But when you think about it, the game consists of flying up and down selling things just to get enough money to buy a couple of missiles because they're the only way of killing pirates, because despite the technology for inter-steller travel, your space-ship can only shoot directly ahead, and has no way of easily-aiming the laser at an opponent. Although your opponents have no problem hitting you every single time no matter where you are. And
  • by gunner800 ( 142959 ) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @01:22PM (#12909575) Homepage
    It has the inside track.
  • For a better discription, especially for newbies watch This [nyud.net]. I cannot figure out how to Coral catch the video so try to only watch the 1 min version to save their server.
  • made for some interesting star gazing the other night.

    Friend of mine has a boat on a little lake in northern Illinois (Bangs lake in Waconda), we were out Thursday night and had a good time throwing back some beers and watching the sky.

    Just after sunset, I mentioned that I thought it was supposed to be a full moon but it was strange that it hadn't risen yet. I had my bearings turned around and was looking west and couldn't figure out if I was looking at a helicopter light or what -- it must have been Ven
  • Anyone familiar with the BA topography with an idea of where I can see this from, clouds permitting of course? Obviously going to the Marin headlands and Mount Tamalpais would be preferrable but that's not a possibility for tonight. I'm in the east bay and hoping I can go up to the Laurence Hall of Science or maybe just Indian Rock (in north Berkeley) and see close enough to the horizon, without the peninsula and Mt. Tam blocking the view.
  • Boring.

    Not boring. [monochrom.at]

It is not best to swap horses while crossing the river. -- Abraham Lincoln