Morning Planetary Goodness!

If you’re an early riser, you’d be treated to a spectacular sight these few days as you look towards the eastern dawn sky:

Taken on May 11 2011, 6.27 am, using a Canon Powershot A495, 2.5 seconds (Click for a larger image). How many planets can you find?

There’s four planets in the photo – Mercury, Venus, Jupiter & Mars.  Mars is the faintest of the lot, and you might have to hunt around with a pair of binoculars to spot it.

Edited for better contrast, with planets labelled.

It’s an example of a planetary conjunction, which is what happens when a number of planets lie along the same line of sight, as seen from Earth.  If you’re able to fly to a position above the Solar System, here’s what you’ll see:

A view from above the Solar System, showing Earth and the four planets, all along the same line. Planet sizes are exaggerated for clarity.

Switching to a view from Earth at the above date and time, this is what you’ll see:

View from Singapore (01°22′N, 103°48′E), along the eastern horizon.

The above two images were generated using the Mitaka software.  This visualisation tool also allows you to see what would happen over the next few days:

What happens over the next two weeks.

 The trio of Mercury, Venus and Jupiter slowly breaks up as Jupiter rises higher in the sky.  At the same time, Mars also rises upwards, forming another trio on May 20:

Mercury, Venus and Mars close together on May 20.

So it’s worth getting up early these few days to catch this sight – it’s a rare opportunity to see so many planets (especially Mercury) together, with just the unaided eye!

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