Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Four planets will be visible to naked eye at dawn

Four of the solar system's five bright planets will put on a spectacular display in the morning sky over the next month.

Those hooked to the celestial bodies will have a rare opportunity to watch Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter and together in a bunch every day at dawn from April 30 to May 9.

According to Arvind Paranipye, in-charge of the public outreach programme of the Inter-university Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), "On April 30 and May 1, the four planets are joined by the earth's moon with its crescent phase."

Paranjpye further said, "The famous astronomer, Copernicus, first proposed mathematically that the planets go round the sun. It is said that he never himself set his eyes upon Mercury. But, here is a chance to see Mersury with naked eyes".

Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter will be visible in the eastern sky for up to two hours before sunrise, given clear weather, until late May.

Canterbury Astronomical Society spokesman Martin Unwin said the show could be seen with the naked eye, although binoculars would help to distinguish Mars' red surface.

The planets' relative positions would change noticeably every night because each was following its own orbit around the sun.

"On several occasions during this period, two of the four planets briefly close up to lie within half a degree of each other – equal to the diameter of the moon," he said.

"Jupiter and Mars are closest on the morning of May 1, accompanied by a thin crescent moon.

"Jupiter and Venus pass each other on May 12, with Mercury only slightly further away.

"Venus and Mars make their closest approach on May 24, also with Mercury close at hand.

"Conjunctions of two or three planets occur roughly every three years, but seeing four so close together is much less common.

"The event is a great opportunity for complete beginners to see four of the five bright planets."

Venus was the brightest of the four, but the others would become increasingly visible as the morning sky darkened next month.