ACT News


Planetary pirouette segues to a line dance

The moon was not the only heavenly object illuminating Telstra Tower from one vantage point this week as two planets pushed their way into the same patch of Canberra's night sky.

Astronomer and school teacher Paul Floyd captured this image of Venus and Jupiter on Monday as the two planets' orbits not only passed each other but also aligned with the moon. Mr Floyd said the planet alignment was reasonably rare, occurring only once every two years.

''What we're seeing is basically a line-of-sight effect,'' he said.

''The planets are really nowhere near each other but when you look at them it appears they are very close - only about three degrees apart.

''Usually you only can only see this in the very early hours of the morning but this event is quite unusual in that the photo was taken about 7.30 at night.''

The alignment has been occurring for several weeks now.


Mr Floyd said the two planets were first spotted moving towards each other on March 7 and were at their closest point on March 14.

Venus has been identified as the brighter star, with Jupiter expected to move in a line in front of the planet and back towards the sun over the next few weeks. Mr Floyd said such alignments could also occur with other planets, depending on the length of their orbit.

''Venus takes less than 260 days to orbit the sun, so its alignment is reasonably common when you compare it to a planet like Saturn, which takes 26 years to orbit the sun,'' he said.

''It is interesting to note the position of the moon, which happens to be plonked right in the middle of the two planets this time around.

''The last alignment I remember was in 2008, when the moon was positioned below the two planets and there was a bit of media comment on the fact it looked like a smiley face in the sky.''

More images of the alignment are available on Mr Floyd's website,