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Planets on parade tonight…

May 26 twilight

If you notice a strange triangle of lights shining low in the sunset sky like that this evening – not blinking, not flashing, just hanging there – don’t panic! It’s not an alien spaceship, we’re not being invaded. Those lights are actually planets.

At the moment, the planets Jupiter, Venus and Mercury are all gathered together in the twilight sky after sunset. They’ve been moving together slowly for a while, and tonight is the night they make their “closest approach” and will appear to form a perfect triangle after dark. Astronomers have been looking forward to this for ages, so we’re all hoping for clear skies!

To see this rare “triple planetary conjunction” (not due to happen again until October 2015) you’ll need to be somewhere with a low and flat north western horizon, i.e no hills, trees or buildings to block your view. You’ll also need clear sky right down to the horizon.

Start looking to the NW at around 9.45pm (in the UK) and you’ll soon notice a lone, silvery “star” shining in the twilight. That’s Venus! Having found that, wait for it to get a little darker, and then you’ll spot Mercury – fainter – shining above Venus, and Jupiter (brighter than Mercury but fainter than Venus) shining to their left, the three worlds forming a perfect triangle. You’ll see this with your naked eye, no telescope needed, but if you have binoculars use them, they’ll make the planets stand out more clearly. By 10.40 or so the planets will have set.

Tomorrow night the triangle will have “broken up” and the planets will have spread apart a little, so really you should try your best to see this tonight.

Amazingly, the Cumbrian clouds parted long enough last night to enable me to see and photograph the three planets “on approach” as it were. I went up toKendal Castle to try and get some photos, and I’m very pleased with how they turned out…

Thre planets May 25th 2013 no caption

Three planets May 25th 2013 SA

Three planets May 25th 2013 SA b

As I write this the sky outside my window is beautifully clear and shocking blue, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to see and photograph the Triangle tonight. That will be really beautiful I think… Let you know tomorrow!

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