Monday, October 12, 2015

Extraordinary Grouping of Planets this week

It was one of those incredibly busy weeks, planning for our campus club events, a "Wild Planet Day" fundraiser for our Great Valley Museum, a field trip to Yosemite, and all the regular stresses of an academic week. I didn't spend much time cruising the web, and missed the posts about the relatively rare close grouping of the visible planets this week in the early morning sky. But I sure couldn't miss it on Friday morning when I was loading the car for our early morning departure on a field trip. Out came the camera, and I got three planets and the moon together in one frame. The star Regulus is visible at the top, next to bright Venus. Mars is to the left and just above the Moon, while Jupiter is at the lower left. I found out later that Mercury had just risen over the horizon, but I didn't have a view of that part of the sky.

The ancients thought that such groupings were portents of great or terrifying things, but today we understand that we are seeing the result of orbital mechanics and gravitational attraction. But that knowledge doesn't take away from the beauty. If anything, our understanding of why the planets appear this way makes it all the more beautiful.

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