|Read more about this solar system scale model HERE.||Read more about the planetary alignment HERE.|
|There was a nice alignment
of the 6 visible planets in spring 2002. The sketch above shows the view
from our back yard on the evening of April 20. From the bottom: Earth,
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter. The moon was nearby that night.
The relative positions changed over the next few weeks, but all 6 planets
remained visible into May.
The visible outer planets - Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn - are visible several months of the year. Venus is easily seen when up, but either rises soon before sunrise or sets soon after sunset. Mercury, closer to the sun than Venus, takes a bit of planning and a good view to the West. When you see it, though, it's obvious what it is. One planet is always visible - the one you're standing on (old astronomer's joke).
It's unusual, though not exactly rare, for 5 planets to appear grouped together in the evening sky.
In Spring 2002, Uranus was just becoming visible in the morning sky. More important, city lights prevent us from a good view to the east. We'll look for it in the fall. It may not be visible by eye, but easy with binoculars. Neptune appears near Uranus this year, but we probably can't see it so close to the city. We won't even try for Pluto.
Sky and Telescope has good information on locating planets, and other sky sights.
[Update 9/14/02: During vacation on Cape Cod we were able to see Uranus
and Neptune, with a good view to the south, less light pollution, and charts
from Sky & Telescope. We even noted Uranus moving over the course
of a week, but sky not nearly dark enough to see it by eye. Neptune
was barely noticeable with binoculars, and then only after the moon set.]
The Boston Museum of Science developed a scale model of the solar system in 1998. The sizes of the "planets" and their distances from the "sun" are all true to scale.
The Sun, Mercury and Venus are all in the museum. Earth and Mars are within a short walk. We saw all of these during a visit to the museum in May. Jupiter and Saturn are not too far away, and easy to get to. As with the real planets, the 3 outermost are hardest to find. We hope to complete our tour of the model during 2002.
[Added June 21: The model of Uranus isn't too far out of the way, but it did take a special trip to see it.]
[Added July 21: Pluto is just off a major highway. We stopped to see it while we were passing by.]
[Added December 29: Finally, on the last weekend of the year, we were north of Boston, so we stopped to find Neptune. They had hidden it away in a back hallway, but we found it. Our tour is now complete. We saw all the model planets this year, and all the real planets except Pluto.]
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