Planets set to align

RoyalAuto magazine

Seven planets will align in our skies this month, and you can see five of them without a telescope. Astronomer Perry Vlahos explains why, and where to find them. 

September 2018.
Star chart: Frank Maiorana. Image: NASA


 

This October it’ll be all over the internet – the planets are aligning and it’s the end of days!

Stay calm, relax, don’t go spending your money before it’s too late. This will not happen. 

But what is happening exactly? Listen up and I’ll explain. 

Firstly, no matter what, we’re powerless to prevent it; the naked-eye planets will all align on the same side of the sun... roughly, but without a catastrophe. Doom prophets in the past have argued because all planets will be on the same side of the sun, the increased gravity will cause huge solar eruptions, along with earthquakes and tsunamis that will destroy the Earth.

Nope, that’s not going to happen.

However, we are going to enjoy a wonderful visual spectacular and nothing can stop that either. Except perhaps two weeks of really bad cloudy weather, but let’s hope not, as it would be a great shame. It will start on 12 October and be visible for about a week and a half.

The planets of the solar system have continued in their orbits around the sun for billions of years, like runners at an athletics track, eight lanes, one athlete in each. Mercury is in the inside lane and travelling the fastest because he has less distance to cover. The slowest is Neptune in the outside lane, with the longest journey. Quite often, an inside runner catches up to a slower outside-lane occupant. Not as often, but it has occurred many times over the millions of orbits, they all happen to be near each other. 

This year is one of those, and we’ll get to see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn with our naked eye, stretched out from just over the horizon in the west, to high above in the northern sky, soon after sunset. Furthermore, with a telescope, you’ll also be able to spot Uranus and Neptune. Seven planets captured by your retina in the course of one evening.

Finally, to bag all eight, look down at your feet. How cool is that?

 

To help you see it all, the Astronomical Society of Victoria will set up large portable telescopes around Melbourne. Visit asv.org.au for times and locations, or follow me on Twitter for updates @Perryastronomy