(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Mon 27 Mar 2023, 1:50 PM
Last updated: Mon 27 Mar 2023, 7:28 PM
Stargazers in the UAE are in for a cosmic treat as a five-planet alignment known as planetary conjunction, will be visible in the night sky on Tuesday, March 28.
Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Uranus and Mars will be aligned in an arc form along with the moon on the sky after sunset.
In astronomy, a conjunction occurs when two celestial objects such as planets, asteroids, moons, or stars have the same right ascension or ecliptic longitude, as measured from Earth.
Experts underline whether people around the world can effectively see this alignment will depend on their geographical position and ambient light condition. But people in the UAE will be able to enjoy this cosmic spectacle.
Dubai Astronomy Group CEO Hasan Al Hariri opines,“This phenomenon may happen once or twice in a year depending on the alignment of the planet as seen from the Earth. The planets actually don't align. When the observers from the Earth look at the sky, to them, it appears as if these planets are in alignment. So, it's a perspective. This happens because of the rotation of the Earth around the Sun. Last year, this alignment happened around morning. This time this kind of alignment will take place around the evening.”
Hariri underlines that though the planets go around the Sun in different orbits and orbital period, sometimes, they appear on the sky 'bunched together' in an alignment and more than one planet appears on the night sky of Earth in a linear arrangement.
He adds,“This alignment is truly impressive for someone who is observing it (from the Earth). We have Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Uranus and Mars, and the Moon will be the added attraction to this. Mercury and Jupiter will be lying very low so there will be a short time to observe those planets. But Venus, Uranus and Mars can be easily observed later on. Uranus will not be visible to the naked eye. It can only be viewed with the help of a telescope. That's because of the urban lights and the Moon's glare that will not make this planet visible with an unaided eye. Therefore, Uranus will be quite dim for us to observe from the city. When there is no moon one can go to the desert and observe the Uranus with the naked eye but certainly, telescopes lead to a better view.”
Experts underline conjunctions are not astronomically significant but are pleasant to observe.
“Planetary conjunctions happen often in our Solar System as the planets follow comparable paths along the ecliptic plane while orbiting the Sun. It's worth noting that although the planets appeared close to one another in the sky, they were actually still quite far apart in space. This is because the distances between the planets are vast, and even during a conjunction, they remain millions of miles apart from one another,” says Sarath Raj, Project Director – Amity Dubai Satellite Ground Station and AmiSat Amity University Dubai.
Multiple instances of five-planet alignment have occurred in recent years (2016, 2020, and 2022), but due to the dynamic nature of planetary movements, the specific combination of planets in alignment varies each time.
“The next time this specific alignment will occur will be in the year 2040. However, it's worth noting that other types of planetary conjunctions, involving different combinations of planets, occur with much greater frequency. For example, Jupiter and Saturn come into conjunction roughly every 20 years, and Venus and Mars come into conjunction roughly every two years,” says Raj. What is a planetary conjunction?
Many factors apparently influence the planetary conjunction which includes relative position of planets, apparent magnitude, frequency and occultation.
“During a conjunction, the planets may appear to be aligned in a straight line, or they may form a triangle, a square, or another geometric pattern. The apparent magnitude of the planets during a conjunction can vary, depending on their distance from the Earth, their size, and their reflective properties. For example, Venus is one of the brightest objects in the night sky, and it can appear much brighter than other planets during a conjunction. The frequency of planetary conjunctions depends on the orbital periods of the planets involved. During a conjunction, one planet may pass in front of another, partially or completely blocking it from view. This is known as an occultation.
“In the skies of Dubai on 28 March 2023, observing Mercury and Jupiter can be challenging, while Venus has excellent visibility; Mars has an average level of visibility, and Uranus is difficult to see. However, these planets can be observed without aid, and using binoculars can enhance their clarity, with the additional advantage that their proximity to the horizon ensures they are not obstructed by sunlight,” adds Raj.
This five-planet alignment can be observed from Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre at 8'clock tonight, tomorrow and day after.
“along with the planets the Moon will also be a beautiful sight to reckon with. Details of the moon can also be seen like its craters, mountains and valleys.
It's always more interesting to observe the Moon during its different phases rather than only viewing the full moon. This sky gazing can be done with the help of big telescopes that we have at the Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre. For that, I'd request people to register on the website and then come down to the Centre to observe this celestial event,” adds Hariri.
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