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Planetary alignment a stellar visual event

Amy Roby

Nothing centers me quite like looking up at the nighttime sky. There’s something awe-inducing about seeing all those glorious pinpoints of light flickering against a midnight velvet backdrop. I take great comfort in the steadfast predictability of the constellations and how they shift across the sky with the seasons. The sight of a full moon fills me with both warmth and wonder, and I’m a sucker for a good meteor shower — a fireworks display of nature’s own making.

Aside from nightly stargazing, most of these evening delights are limited to a day or two. But there’s a pretty special celestial event going on this very minute that will extend through most of February.

Right now, the bright planets of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter are all simultaneously visible on a diagonal line in the pre-dawn sky. According to EarthSky.org, the planets are easily seen because “their disks reflect sunlight, and these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light” than stars. They appear in a diagonal line because of an unusual alignment along each planet’s orbital plane.

Though the planets will be visible until about Feb. 20, the optimal viewing time to see all five is now through next week. And although this spectacle hasn’t happened since 2005, sky enthusiasts will have another opportunity to see the planets aligned again in August.

I woke early in the morning last weekend and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I decided to step outside and see about these five planets. My bleary eyes and the brilliant glow from the full moon make me hesitant to say for certain what I saw, but looking east to south, I’m pretty sure I spotted Venus, Saturn and Jupiter. That little taste was enough to convince me to wake up early again, but hazy, cloudy skies have made it difficult to see much this week so far. I’m not easily deterred and am hopeful I’ll be able to see all of the planets in the coming weeks.

There are lots of great online resources and infographics available if you’d like to learn more about what to look for during this awesome planetary display. Typing “five planets align” in my search engine did the trick for me.

Happy sky gazing.

Amy Roby can be reached at ranchosroundup@hotmail.com.