The Dance of the Planets

A Never-Ending, Never-Repeating Dance.

I'm a naked eye astronomer, as were all astronomers before the invention of the telescope, four centuries ago. I love to watch the sky at night, observing the slow dance of the planets amongst the stars.

Today we get only a dim glimpse of what earlier peoples must have seen in skies free from dust pollution and, in urban areas, from the light pollution that bleaches out all but the moon and brightest stars.

Here are some things you can see in the evening sky, after sunset, as the never-repeating, never-ending, cosmic dance continues.

Planet Positions:

2019 begins with only Mars in the evening sky, high in the West, gently gliding down into the sunset in June. As he does Mercury rises up to greet him with the two almost touching on June15. Then it immediately turns back to escort Mars out.

As these two exit, Jupiter reappears in the East and makes its now annual traverse across the summer sky through till late October.

Saturn appears close behind in late July. The two are slowly getting closer again as the years go by, heading towards their own Great Conjunction in December 2020, a meeting that happens only once every 20 years or so.

As Jupiter disappears, Venus rises up to welcome it home, and begins another of her majestic dances. Mercury makes another appearance escorting her in, but probably too faint in the glow of the sunset for their duet to be fully appreciated,

Two months later Venus greets Saturn as it too fades into the sunset.

Lone Venus then dominates the winter sky. shining unmistakably in the West.

The Ecliptic
For spotting planets, it is helpful to know where the ecliptic is. The ecliptic is the imaginary line stretching across the sky, along which the sun, moon and planets all appear to move. If, for example, the sun has just set, and the moon is up high, then the ecliptic is the line from the sun (somewhere just over the horizon) through the moon and beyond to the opposite horizon. The planets will also be not far from that line. Or, if you can see two planets, but no moon, the line through the two planets defines the ecliptic.

The twelve Zodiacal constellations (Taurus, Pisces, Gemini, etc.) also lie on the ecliptic -- they are the constellations the planets pass through.

Meteor Showers

Quadrantids. January 3-4
Lyrids. April 21-22
Eta Aquirids. May 5-6
Delta Aquarids. August 13
Perseids. 11-12 August.
Orionids. 21 October.
Leonids. 17-18 November.
Geminids. 13-14 December.

The Story So Far