Dramatic view of Planets

Friday, March 2nd 2012. | Science News

Drama of PlanetThe “pairing of the planets” continue to grab our attention this March, as the dynamics of the solar system demonstrate its celestial rhythm and grace before our eyes.

In fact, all five classical planets – those known before the telescope came along – have become visible for evening viewers. So often at least one and often several of the planets linger in the domain of the wee hours, that mysterious time when most mortals are fast asleep, the only stars they might see being in their dreams. At last, the heavens have given a nod to the vast majority of earthlings who remain content to look up when it most convenient for them.

About 45 minutes after sunset, look west. If you have a site where the horizon is low, you should be able to view Mercury hugging the departed sun as its orange-hued light pierces the reddish glow of dusk. High up is the gloriously bright planet Venus, and getting closer every evening and to the upper left is the great planet Jupiter, second in magnitude only to Venus.

As if that weren’t enough, the Red Planet, Mars, is at its greatest brilliancy for its current opposition, placed just opposite from the setting sun and seen low in the east during evening twilight. Less than four hours after sunset, the great ringed planet Saturn appears low in the east.

Did I say five classical planets? There remains one other, visible day and night and independent of the clouds. There is one planet that is ever in view, so close in fact, you can feel it- the third orb from the sun, the planet Earth. Let us not forget we ride on one of these cosmic spheres, faithfully circling the sun over millennia untold, like clock-work passing or lagging behind its planetary peers that is the drama of the solar family.

The sky, mind you, is not limited to the breadth of the heavens over your head, like some inverted fish bowl. The sky continues under your feet, completing the celestial sphere – we just have planet Earth blocking half the view.

The configurations of the planets are ever-changing and not limited from our perspective; viewers on Mars – yes – our robotic Martian landers and rovers – have peered upwards in the dusty pink sky of Mars and bid homage to the bright blue planet we call Earth. Pictures sent back from Mars show not only our bright blue presence, but also our faithful attendant, the moon, standing out as a lesser, yellowish speck of light forever circling Earth.

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