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The May 2000 Planetary "Alignments"
On May 5, 2000, the five naked-eye planets Mercury, Venus, Mars,
Jupiter, and Saturn plus the Moon will gather around the Sun in an arc
spanning 26°. A similar more compact grouping (19.5°) will occur on May 17
but without the Moon. Unfortunately, the planetary gatherings will not
be visible because both events will be lost in the glare of the Sun.
Such planetary gatherings or "alignments" take place from time to time.
This is because the planets are always in motion around the Sun and
every so often one or more pass close to another. The planetary
"alignments" in May 2000 are no different to other such events in the
recent history of the Earth. The last time the five naked-eye planets,
Sun and Moon were this close was in February 1962.
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Nevertheless, celestial events such as the May 2000 event always
generate unfounded claims that planetary gatherings will cause an
adverse effect on the Earth through tidal or some "unknown" forces
triggering disasters. Relax... Who can forget the nonsense surrounding
the so-called Jupiter Effect in 1982 when a Jupiter-led alignment in
March that year was somehow supposed to cause California to, once again,
slide off into the ocean! Didn't happen then, won't happen now.
Tidal forces are well understood easy to calculate. The tidal forces for
the May 2000 planetary gatherings are negligible. There will be no
global catastrophe. You can learn more about planetary alignments, and
in particular the events of May 2000, in an on-line article written by
John Mosley of Griffith Observatory. "Planetary Alignments in 2000" is
available at http://www.griffithobs.org/SkyAlignments.html.
And now for some stargazing...
Star gazers should take the opportunity this month to view M13, the
finest globular star cluster in the northern skies. It is located almost
midway between Vega and Arcturus. Also, using a pair of binoculars, take
a look at the faint array of stars known as Coma Berenices (Mel 111).
It's one of the nearest open star clusters to us. Clear skies until next