Later this month, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will line up in order in what a U of G physicist calls a “delightful rarity.”
The phenomenon, called a planetary alignment, hasn’t been observed in the northern hemisphere since December 2004. It won’t happen again until 2040.
Orbax is a lecturer in the Department of Physics in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. He’s also the co-founder of Royal City Science, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, and one-half of Orbax and Pepper Do Science, an educational science-based platform.
Between June 19 and 27, the five-planet alignment will be visible just before sunrise for about 30 minutes to an hour in all before Mercury is obscured from view by the sun.
If you missed the alignment 18 years ago, “you’ll have a few days to try to observe the beauty of this celestial dance,” says Orbax.
June 23 to offer most spectacular view
The morning of June 23 is expected to offer the most spectacular dance: the waning crescent moon will cut in line between Venus and Mars.
From the vantage point of Earth, an imaginary line called the ecliptic marks the plane of Earth’s orbit around the sun. It plays a large role in how and when the planets line up. The other planets in the solar system orbit relatively close to the same plane.
“What this means is that whenever we see a planet in the night sky, it tends to be relatively close to the ecliptic line,” explains Orbax.
Whether we can see a planet from our viewpoint, and what time of year we see it or even what time of night it can be seen, depends on the synchronicity of the planets’ orbits, which is why this event is so uncommon.
“It just so happens that this time, the orbits have aligned in such a way that they are all in that tiny chunk of space during that tiny chunk of time.”
Orbax recently discussed the planetary alignment with Morning Live on CHCH, Global News Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph Mercury Tribune, and AM900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton with Rick Zamperin. He is available for interviews.