Mac Jonsen is hoping for clear skies over the next couple of days to observe the unusual planetary alignment.
Mac Jonsen is hoping for clear skies over the next couple of days to observe the unusual planetary alignment. Mike Knott

Planets line up to put on show

AN unusual line-up of four planets and the Moon will be visible just after dark today and tomorrow.

Alloway Observatory director Mac Jonsen said anyone who looked towards the west about 6.30pm would see the four planets virtually in a row.

“Mars will be on top, followed by Venus, Saturn, the crescent Moon and then Mercury,” he said.

“It will be easy to see with the naked eye. Just look for the Moon and then look for the four brightest stars.”

Mr Jonsen said the line-up of the planets happened every few years, but having the crescent Moon there too made it special.

He said he hoped the weather cleared up so the planets could be seen.

“According to the weather forecast, it should be fine,” Mr Jonsen said.

Anyone who is up early today or tomorrow could also be treated to a light show as the Earth passes through debris from a comet.

Mr Jonsen said every 133 years, the Comet Swift-Tuttle passed through the inner solar system, leaving behind it a trail of dust and gravel.

When the Earth passes through the comet’s trail, the debris burns up in the atmosphere, putting on a light show.

“If we’re lucky, we could get one burning up every 30 seconds or so,” Mr Jonsen said.

The phenomenon is called the Perseids because the debris appears to come out of the constellation Perseus.

Most of the dust in the cloud of debris at present is about 1000 years old, although there is some relatively young dust that was pulled off the comet in 1862.

Mr Jonsen said the observatory members were still working on getting its new 12-inch telescope, imported from the US in June at a cost of almost $7000, fully into service.

“It does take some time to get something like that set up properly,” he said.

The new telescope was being used mainly for photography as the observatory members used it to peer into the depths of space.

“That’s what we’re working on, weather permitting,” Mr Jonsen said.

He also pointed out the observatory was now open to the public on the evening of the third Friday of every month.



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