Bottoms up! Mercury, Moon, Saturn, Venus, Mars...

Clockwork Planets

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015



While the Perseid meteor shower has been putting on quite a show, there’s an awesome “no telescope needed” eye-catching apparition that only requires a clear western skyline. If you haven’t been watching the planets – Mercury, Saturn, Venus and Mars – line up like clockwork, then don’t despair. You have a few more days yet!

While the uniformed all-too-often see “signs of bad portent” in a planetary alignment, the rest of us know this is a perfectly normal function of our solar system called a conjunction. This is a simple positional alignment as seen (usually from Earth’s viewpoint) from any given vantage point. The world isn’t going to end, the oceans aren’t going to rise… and Mars is darn-sure not going to be the size of the Moon. All alignments of at least two celestial bodies are merely coincidental and we even have a grand name for what’s happening – an appulse.

When planets are involved, their near appearance usually happens in the same right ascension. They really aren’t any closer to each other than what their orbital path dictates – it just appears that way. In the same respect, there is also conjunction in ecliptical longitude. But, if the planet nearer the Earth should happen to pass in front of another planet during a conjunction it’s called a syzygy!

One thing is for sure… You don’t have to be a syzy-genius to simply enjoy the show and the predictable movements of our solar system. Just find an open western skyline and watch as twilight deepens. Tonight the Moon will be directly south of Venus and over the next couple of days the planetary alignment will gradually separate as brilliant Venus seems to hold its position, while Mars, Saturn and Mercury drift north. Enjoy the show! Because just like the yearly Mars/Moon Myth?

It happens like clockwork…

Many, many thanks to the incredible Shevill Mathers for providing us with this breathtaking photo. (Do you know just how hard it is to get a shot like that without over or under exposing? I dare you to try it…) Every fox has a silver lining!


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
August 13, 2010 2:05 PM
Hi Tammy! I went ‘up the mountain’ last night and took in the Perseids… NICE! Also saw Saturn, but was too lazy to relocate to view the other planets in that part of the sky – there was a mountain in that direction! And I was too lazy to move two telescopes, two lawn chairs and the usual pile of gear… But, I saw 30 Perseids with two BRIGHT bolides in the group and showed off the summer sky to those who dropped in… FUN! One gal, a friend of a friend, was ‘something else’. She called herself a ‘Sidereal Astrologer’… I asked her what that meant and she went into a wordsome explanation about planetary motions that… Read more »
August 13, 2010 2:22 PM

To be fair.. an explanation of ‘sidereal astrology’ as related in Wikipedia can be found at:

August 14, 2010 5:50 AM

Thanks Tammy… Reading about your work here and in your observatory web page has encouraged me to becoming more active as an amateur! By the way… I DO have some rather ‘far fetched’ ideas concerning stellar, galactic and even particle synthesis… but I know better than to spout those ideas and stick to the accepted science(s) when in public! That is, unless someone ‘eggs’ me on~~@; )

August 15, 2010 11:39 PM
Some more details on how the photo was shot would be nice. I tried for a similar shot also on the 12th, from just east of Vancouver BC. Even as the moon was setting I couldn’t capture Saturn and Mars without over exposing everything. Now I had the city of Vancouver with it’s light pollution to the west of me and a lot of haze in the air from forest fires, but I dont see how this photo could have been possible at least in my local conditions. The sky was far too bright. Was the photographer in the southern hemisphere where the sun currently sets earlier due to it being their winter? Oh … and there’s 5… Read more »