Parade of planets. December 2021

He is underestimated

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Probably, many have heard that the Parade of the Planets is taking place. Someone calls this parade of planets “small”, suggesting that it can be cooler. But what the essence of the phenomenon is, not so many representatives of humanity are already aware.

And what exactly is the “Parade of the Planets”?

I heard this term in 1980. Probably, it existed before, but it was by the beginning of the 80s that an interesting position of the planets in orbits developed, which made it possible to send space stations to the distant planets of the solar system, using each of the planets as a gravitational sling. It was assumed that the apparatus would perform a gravitational maneuver near a planet, thereby “stealing” kinetic energy, the loss of which the planet would not notice, and the apparatus would receive a noticeable (by several kilometers per second) increase in speed – practically without using engines (only within small orbit correction). Plus, such maneuvers made it possible to skillfully redirect the automatic interplanetary station to the next target.

It was the convenient location of the giant planets in a rather narrow sector, at the top of which the Sun was located, that allowed the American robotic station Voyager 2 to visit all 4 gas giants of the solar system. And it was truly a landmark mission.

And although astronomers at that time were very skeptical about the term “parade of planets”, they were forced to admit that the position of the planets was really unusual – this does not happen every year, and not even every century. And tangible benefits were formed from him for science.

Most people, when they mentioned the term “Parade of Planets”, imagined that all the planets of the solar system lined up in one line – absolutely sure – people generally love beauty. But someone also loves sensations, so even then there were rumors that their total gravitation would throw out a red-hot plasma from the Sun onto the Earth, which would burn all living things in our monastery, putting an end to the confrontation between the socialist and capitalist world systems.

In fact, the planets were not lined up. The narrowest sector, in which then all the planets could fit (by the way, including Pluto – he wandered then by the planet), was slightly wider than 90 degrees. So-so parade – from the point of view of the layman.

From the point of view of observing the planets, nothing special happened in the sky. Of course, it was not visible that the planets were lined up. On the contrary, those that are closer to the Sun have faded in its rays, and those that are farther from the Sun than the Earth, they were scattered across different constellations – quite far from each other. And only Jupiter and Saturn were close at that time, and it was beautiful – I was in the 4th grade, and one night I saw them in the sky – I immediately realized that these were not stars.

In the spring, a bright bloody Mars passed them, but by summer the planets plunged into the evening dawn – they ceased to be visible, and after all, we only look at the sky in summer – at the dacha …

The parade of planets of the 80th year went unnoticed for most people – they heard the ringing, but almost no one saw it. But the chance given to them to study all 4 giant planets of the solar system – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – has incredibly enriched science. This expedition continued until the end of the 1980s, and the data obtained by Voyagers is still being processed.

Since that time, the planets have not found themselves within such a narrow sector. But human fantasy is limitless. In order to further exploit the term “Parade of the Planets” and launch waves of hype in the media, one of the journalists came up with a new concept. Now it is no longer necessary to collect all the planets together, and who cares how they are located in orbits – we are looking from the Earth! It is quite enough if any three planets are visible not far from each other – within one or two constellations. This will be called the “Minor Parade of Planets”. Well, if more planets have gathered in the sky nearby – four or five – this is already the “Great Parade of Planets”.

At the same time, it was not specified what kind of planets are in question – about visible to the eye or about all large ones, including Uranus and Neptune, which are quite large planets of the solar system, but are not visible to the eye. Or maybe add minor planets to the potential participants in the parades? – Ah! – There are too many of them! So, all is not necessary – only the most famous and largest – Ceres, West Juno, Pallas … Well, and Pluto, of course – from old memory …

In other words, in the new attitude to the term, there was a lot of freedom to be able to announce the parade of the planets on any day. So, in fact, it happened – all of a sudden (often for no reason) in the newspapers there are headlines about the upcoming or already happened parade, and astronomers do not know at all what they are talking about.

But more often than not, there was still a reason. And it was the journalists, not the astronomers, who informed the public that it was a good time to observe several planets at once. This was its plus.

There was also a minus. Under such a sauce, they often slipped some fables, bad prophecies that did not come true, but increased anxiety in society, and people rushed to buy something again in stores with their last money.

As to any pathogen, and informational stuffing is also a kind of viruses, the susceptibility to panic from all these “parades” has faded over time. You can’t endlessly worry about trifles. But the interest remained. And now, when the media proclaim the next “parade of planets”, people no longer ask what to buy and where to hide, but are curious about where to look and what to see.

Let’s go and we’ll find out.

So.

Almost the entire outgoing year (since April), the night sky was adorned by the two largest planets of the solar system – Jupiter and Saturn. They were not far from each other – in the same constellation Capricorn (although Jupiter sometimes crossed into the constellation Aquarius, describing a loop). They lacked someone else to make the parade.

At the end of November, they were joined by bright Venus. Its evening visibility began in June, but it still could not get better – the planet was hiding in the evening dawn low above the horizon and was waiting for the onset of late autumn. Finally, everything worked out – the swift Venus slowed down after maximum elongation (distance from the Sun) and hovered at such a distance from Saturn, which separates it in the sky with Jupiter. It turned out beautifully, symmetrically.

This configuration will remain practically frozen until the end of December. The whole trinity will approach the Sun, practically without changing their relative position. At least by this quality – synchronicity and constancy – the December arrangement of Venus, Saturn and Jupiter deserves the right to be called the “Parade of the planets”.

And here it is “Small” or “Big” – we’ll figure it out now.

After all, no one limited us in joining the parade of only the planets visible to the eye.

What else do we have there in heaven?

It turns out that at about the same distance that separates Venus and Saturn, Saturn and Jupiter, but only to the east of Jupiter, you can find Neptune in a small telescope.

Neptune is located in a very noticeable region of the constellation Aquarius – near the asterism “Chicken Paw” formed by the stars φ χ ψ of Aquarius. If you find this “Paw”, then you will easily find Neptune.

But this does not end there either. If you still move along the ecliptic to the east – to the constellation Aries – you will find in its southern part – on the border with the constellation Pisces – the planet Uranus. Formally, Uranus is visible to the eye. Certainly not in the city. But no one promised that all these “planetary parades” concern only the townspeople.

So we have counted already 5 major planets of the solar system, which are clearly visible in the evening and can be observed with amateur devices (small telescopes, binoculars, pipes). And you can take pictures of Uranus and Neptune with an ordinary camera. Samsung recently released a line of budget smartphones (like the M-31) that can easily shoot stars up to magnitude 8-9. The problem is different: to determine which of the points on the image is exactly Uranus and Neptune.

But as you gain experience, it will no longer be a daunting task. You can even compare pictures taken on different nights and notice the slow displacement of these distant planets against the background of even more distant stars. So astronomers at one time discovered new planets and asteroids – it is shifting, which means the planet.

As soon as we remembered about asteroids, it will not be superfluous to ask, what if some of them are also in the evening sky of December 2021?

And they are there.

First of all, this is Ceres – not exactly an asteroid, but a dwarf planet. Since 1801, when this relatively small celestial body was discovered, it has long been considered a full-fledged planet. And only when a few dozen objects similar to it – wandering, but faint in brightness and indistinguishable from stars – were accumulated, all of them were wholesale renamed into asteroids (or – minor planets). But in 2006, Ceres was overtaken by a rise in status. And she – along with Pluto – was attributed to the dwarf planets.

Located in the evening sky of December, Ceres is even east of Uranus – in the next constellation of Aries – in the constellation Taurus – practically in the middle between the open star clusters of Hyades and Pleiades – a convenient location for searches. And in terms of brightness, it is quite comparable to Neptune. Even a little brighter.

Another minor planet can be found in this row of wandering stars. Namely – Pallas, or – asteroid number 2 (although, now – after the transfer of Ceres to the senior group of kindergarten in the class of dwarf planets – maybe number 1? But, no – Pallas is still considered asteroid number 2).

Pallas is located next to Neptune – on the other side of the Chicken Paw. To see it with confidence, you already need a stronger telescope – after all, Pallas of the 10th magnitude.

Together with two distant giant planets – Uranus and Neptune, and two small planets – Ceres and Pallas, the December “Parade of Planets” has such an interesting look:

And this may well be called the “Grand Parade”, because this terminology is not entirely scientific and quite free – we want to, and call it “The Great Parade of Planets” – no one will get any worse from this. But if someone doubts that – “Was that possible?”, I will add that very close to Venus in the cold sky of December hides even colder Pluto – the king of the dwarf planets. It is impossible to see it in amateur telescopes – it is very weak in brightness – 15th magnitude. But it would also be wrong not to honor it by mentioning it.

By the way, on December 11, Pluto was in close conjunction with Venus. To put it more simply, Venus passed the tiny Pluto at a very small angular distance – only two arc minutes – this is very close … but, of course, we are talking about an illusory approach – from the Earth it seems so. In reality – in outer space – Venus and Pluto are separated by 6 billion kilometers, and this apparent convergence will not affect the planets in any way – nothing extraordinary will happen to them because of this.

Who haven’t we talked about yet?

Mercury and Mars dropped out of our sight. And all because in the evening they are not visible, and cannot participate in this “Parade of Planets”.

From mid-December, Mars appears in the rays of dawn and can be seen by experienced observers. I’ve already seen. But so far, Mars is nothing impressive. Satisfactory conditions for its visibility will begin after the new year, when, little by little, Mars will begin to move into the morning and night sky.

Mercury is not visible at all in December, but will begin to appear in the morning sky at the end of January, where Venus will jump after the Christmas holidays. The evening parade of planets will be destroyed by the flight of Venus. But at the same time, three planets at once will be visible in the morning sky – Mercury, Venus and Mars.

The evening parade of the planets is dead. Long live the morning parade of the planets!

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