May 19, 2022

Taylor Daily Press

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Half of the solar system at a glance

Half of the solar system at a glance

Whoever gets up before dawn and looks east can see half of the solar system at a glance today. During the second half of April, Saturn, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter form a quadrant that stands neatly in a straight line. A line that reflects the plane in which the eight planets (sorry, Pluto) of our solar system revolve around the sun.

the earth is tilted

The imaginary straight line connecting the planets, in turn, reflects the arrangement of our solar system by its angle to the horizon. After all, this angle is partly determined by the tilt of the Earth relative to the orbital plane of its orbit around the Sun. We owe the seasons to this tilt: in the spring and summer the northern hemisphere faces the sun, in the run-up to the summer solstice (on June 21) the sun rises early and before that.

Due to the tilt of the Earth, the time window in which we can see aligning planets with the naked eye will get smaller and smaller in the coming days and weeks. When Saturn is its first quadrant – tonight about a quarter to five – it’s still very dark. But between five and six, dawn begins and when Jupiter completes the quadrilateral about a quarter to six, it’s actually too bright to see the largest planet in our solar system well. With the early sunrise, it is best not to wait too long to witness the spectacle.

How to identify a planet

Like the sun, the planets rise on the eastern horizon. Venus, our hot neighbor planet, is usually easiest to spot – look for a bright white dot. Jupiter is also relatively bright and white in color, although dawn can actually hamper observation significantly. Although Saturn appears somewhat faint due to its great distance from Earth, the yellowish light of the planet’s rings is still clearly visible in the dark. Mars, our other nearby planet, can be found by looking for an orange dot. Good to know: Unlike stars, planets don’t twinkle or twinkle.

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Soon seven in a row

The alignment of the planets is only obvious of course. In fact, they are in completely different positions in their orbit around the sun, millions of miles (and Earth) apart. So this phenomenon is literally In the eye of the beholder It is largely determined by where we observe the planets from and when we do so.

By the way, planetary alignment is not that rare. In 2020, the four planets can already be seen side by side. And soon, on June 24, not four planets will line up, but seven, because then they will be joined by Mercury, Neptune and Uranus. Even so, it is up to early birds to admire the solar system in all its glory.