"A Gathering of Planets"

I am a total novice in things astronomical. Despite living under this sky for 50 years, I know very little. I tend more to small things that are up close and personal than the big things off in the distance. In recent months though, for some reason my interests have expanded. It has been my quest to look up^ a bit more deliberately. I want to put a name to the features that have just been a pretty background heretofore.

I’ve been aided considerably by several wonderful websites. From one of them, an email alert just arrived. It tells me, ahead of time! that there will be a “gathering of planets” soon. Five “naked-eye planets” (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter) will be visible sans telescopes at the same time in the last week of March, 2004. Currently, and again by April, Mercury will not be visible but the other 4 will continue to be obvious throughout this spring.

This is a fairly unusual occurrence and will not be repeated until the year 2008.

As cool as it is to see and identify these planets with a naked-eye, they also say if one does have a telescope this is a good time to break it out. “Even a small 'scope will reveal Saturn's rings, Jupiter's cloud belts and its largest moons, and the phases of Venus.” 1

I’m fairly sure I saw Venus, Jupiter and Saturn at dusk last night. Since it was the equinox I knew which way was west precisely as the sun was setting. As I faced the field in front of me, west was just slightly to my right and the wonderfully bright Venus appeared. Then directly behind me was another bright dot (Saturn) and south and to my left was, I think, Jupiter, or was it Mars? Three bright, non twinkling spots just before the darkness fell. There was no moon light, this being the new moon phase. I was out in the woods on an expedition to observe the mating ritual of the local timberdoodle…really, but that’s another node.

1 http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2004/19mar_planets.htm?list1136105 2 http://www.onescience.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=978 http://www.space.com/spacewatch/planet_guide_040312.html 3 http://weblogs.csmonitor.com/scitechblog/2004/02/ 4 http://ask.yahoo.com/ask/20010620.html 5 http://www.inconstantmoon.com/inconstant.htm 6 http://spaceweather.com/ 7 http://www.venus-transit.de/ 8 picture 9 http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/lib/about_apod.html 10 http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/ 11 http://www.stsci.edu/resources/ 12 http://www.stsci.edu/outreach/ 13 www.savethehubble.com 14 http://edition.cnn.com/TECH/space/ 15 http://skyandtelescope.com/ 16 http://www.heavens-above.com/ 17 http://www.fourmilab.ch/yoursky/