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A Plethora of Planets

BY AMY SAYLE

A plethora of planets awaits you at Morehead’s next skywatching session at Jordan Lake this Saturday, May 31, 2014. We’ll be at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area, 9-11 p.m. (weather permitting).

Mercury, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn all currently decorate the evening sky. To catch Mercury, come near the beginning of the session, since it’ll set over the lake around 10 p.m.

You may notice that the four planets look as if they’re lined up across the sky. That line (really more of an arc) is called the “ecliptic.” The ecliptic marks the path that the Sun appears to follow in front of the constellations of the zodiac as Earth orbits the Sun over the year.

You can also think of the ecliptic as the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun, projected into space. Because the other planets in our solar system orbit the Sun in roughly that same plane, you’ll always see planets near the ecliptic.

A red arc marks the ecliptic (Credit: Stellarium)

In addition to planets, we’ll be observing the Moon and other celestial objects at the upcoming Jordan Lake skywatching session. Check the Morehead website before you head out to the lake – just in case we’ve had to cancel because of clouds or rain.

Photo credit: A red arc marks the ecliptic in this all-sky view an hour after sunset on May 13, 2014. A red arc marks the ecliptic by Stellarium