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Morning Mayhem

May 8, 2011

If this were a typical year, the doomsayers would be in fine voice this month. That's because four of the five planets that are visible to the unaided eye huddle quite close together in the dawn sky. Since the doomsayers are saving up for December of next year, though, they may let this conjunction pass with little notice.

That's just as well, since such a conjunction has no effect on ordinary human affairs. The planets are all so far away that even their combined gravitational pull on Earth is tiny compared to the pull of the Sun and Moon. And there are no other invisible "forces" that make such an alignment anything to worry about.

Instead, it's a cause for celebration because it's such a pretty sight.

On Tuesday morning, for example, Venus and Jupiter will stand side by side, quite low in the east as dawn twilight brightens. They are the brightest objects in the night sky after the Moon, so as long as you have a clear horizon, they stand out. Venus is the brighter of the two, with Jupiter to its left.

Mercury is to the lower right of Venus, about the same distance as between Venus and Jupiter. It isn't nearly as bright, but its proximity to Venus will help you find it. Finally, Mars is to the lower left of Jupiter. It's so low and faint that it'll be difficult to see, even with binoculars.

The view is best from the southern states because the path of the planets stands at a little higher angle relative to the horizon.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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