Planetary Alignment Dazzles Weekend SkyWatchers

by Tammy Plotner on July 8, 2008

Saturn, Mars, Regulus and Moon - Richard McCoy

We warned you it was about to happen! Even though you may have been clouded out of viewing this weekend’s awesome alignment of Regulus, Mars and Saturn dancing with the Da Vinci Moon, our friendly photographers around the world were happy to share the view with us. Unlike the many erroneous myths that often surround such occurrences, planetary alignments are nothing more than the visible clockwork mechanism of our natural skies.

While Saturn and Mars descend through the “Sacred Hoop”, we have to remember that such alignments are not rare – just natural. Rumors and myths of calamities and catastrophe have abounded since the beginning or oral history when they occur, and it is amazing just how quickly these stories dissipate once the alignment has passed and nothing happened! Without rehashing doomsday prophecies, we need to take a closer look at alignments for just what they are…

An awesome display of celestial mechanics.

July 6 Alignment by Shevill Mathers

Each and every planetary alignment holds an opportunity to expand awareness about astronomy. It is a proven fact that the human eye follows the Gestalt Laws of Organization – the study of how people perceive visual components as organized patterns or wholes, instead of many different parts. We develop a fixation on such patterns when we see them. Ask yourself if your own eye is not drawn to this image of the alignment! The parallax is so far and so slow, that we simply cannot attach anything more than a mystical sense of wonder at the visualization. And that is not a bad thing… It draws people to require an explanation for what they see.

Be a good astronomer and stop misinformation in its tracks. When people you know ask about what they have seen in the sky, tell them! Explain how the stars and planets work just like a clock, each following their gear and routine. Alignments happen every hour… 1:05 and five seconds… 8:40 and 40 seconds.. and the sky is no different. If our eyes were sensitive enough, just think of all the deep sky alignments that occur each month as the Moon and planets traverse the ecliptic plane! How many stars hidden behind blue skies does our own Sun align with each and every second of the day?

And stay tuned for the next awe inspiring event…

The two incredible images of this weekend’s planetary alignment belong to Advanced Optical and Radio Astronomers International Associates members, Richard McCoy (panoramic image) and Shevill Mathers (closeup). We appreciate the time and energy you put into these photos and thank you for sharing with us!


Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She’s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.

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