Planetary Traffic Jam (Part 2): May 2002

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4 May 2002: Planets move into position for a triple alignment...

4 May 2002 at 21:36BST

Since 28th April Mars has almost caught up with Saturn, and Venus is catching them both. Jupiter remains high in the picture and Mercury is still below and to the right of Venus. See below for a closer view of the impending triple alignment, and here for how the planets can come together in the sky even though in reality they are many millions of miles apart.

4 May 2002, 21:36BST (20:36UT). Minolta Dimage 7, 9.7mm, 1s @ f/3.5, ISO400

4 May 2002 at 21:39BST

Venus, Mars and Saturn heading into position to form an equilateral triangle in 2 days time. Mercury, just above the tree on the right, is fainter than a week ago as it is rounding the Sun towards us (today is its maximum easterly elongation from the Sun) and presenting more of its dark side towards us.

4 May 2002, 21:39BST (20:39UT). Minolta Dimage 7, 34.3mm, 2/3s @ f/3.5, ISO400

7 May 2002: Triangle of Planets

7 May 2002 at 21:35BST

Since 4th May Mars has overtaken Saturn and Venus is catching them both, forming a nice triangle. Clouds rolled in even as I was taking this picture so Mars, the faintest of the grouping anyway, is struggling to be seen and hardly shows in this reduced picture. Jupiter, higher up, was obscured completely.

7 May 2002, 21:35BST (20:35UT). Minolta Dimage 7, 29.2mm, 2/3s @ f/3.5, ISO400

14 to 16 May 2002: The Moon passes through the system

Saturn has been left behind as Venus and Mars advance on Jupiter. The following sequence of pictures, taken at about the same time each evening, shows the passage of the Moon past Venus and Jupiter in the space of 48 hours...

14 May 2002, 21:27BST

Venus lies just above the Moon to the lower right and Jupiter is at upper left. The clouds that partly obscure the Moon and Venus completely hide Mars (even though it is near the Moon) and Saturn.

14 May 2002, 21:27ST (20:27UT). Minolta Dimage 7, 13.7mm, 1/6s @ f/3.5, ISO400

15 May 2002, 21:46BST

The Moon lies midway between Venus (lower) and Jupiter (upper). Mars is visible on the original below and to the right of Venus, but is lost on this reduced picture - see below for a closeup that shows it. Saturn is behind the clouds at the bottom of the picture and too low to be seen.

The stars to the left of the Moon are not planets but two stars in the constellation of Gemini.

15 May 2002, 21:46ST (20:46UT). Minolta Dimage 7, 12.1mm, 2/3s @ f/3.5, ISO400

16 May 2002, 21:36BST

The Moon lies above Jupiter now. Mars lies just above the TV aerial to the lower right but is not visible on this reduced picture, and is hard to see even on the original as I have kept the exposure short to avoid the Moon becoming too over exposed.

16 May 2002, 21:27BST (20:36UT). Minolta Dimage 7, 12.8mm, 1/6s @ f/3.5, ISO400

15 May 2002, 21:48BST

A larger picture of the lower part of the sky on 15th May that shows Mars below and to the right of Venus. The bright star to the right of Venus is Al Nath (Beta-Tauri), the second brightest star of Taurus.

Compare this picture with one from 7th May; Mars has now fallen behind Venus as a result of its lower orbital speed (because it orbits further from the Sun than Venus and Earth). Saturn has fallen behind even more and is not visible at all on this picture, while Mercury has also disappeared as it heads for Inferior Conjunction (i.e. when it passes between the Sun and the Earth) on 27th May.

15 May 2002, 21:48ST (20:48UT). Minolta Dimage 7, 21.4mm, 1/2s @ f/3.5, ISO400

18 May 2002: Saturn disappears into the twilight

As the Earth's orbit around the Sun causes the Sun to gain on Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, Saturn is now becoming lost in the twilight and even Mars is becoming hard to record in the same shot as Venus and Jupiter. These pictures probably represent the last opportunity to catch 4 planets together as they start to go their separate ways. Mercury has now already left the scene, and Saturn will be the next to go - it will pass behind the Sun on 9th June.

Jupiter (upper left) and Venus (centre) dominate this view, but Mars and Saturn are too faint and low down in the twilight to show up on this picture. The rectangle marks the outline of a larger zoomed-in picture that proves Mars and Saturn really are there! The planet names are to the left of the planets themselves.

Main picture: 18 May 2002, 21:41BST (20:41UT). Minolta Dimage 7, 14.0mm, 1/4s @ f/3.5, ISO400

Close-up picture: 18 May 2002, 21:36BST (20:36UT). Minolta Dimage 7, 49.1mm, 1/8s @ f/3.5, ISO400

31 May 2002: Venus gains on Jupiter

Venus gains on Jupiter as it continues to pull away from the Sun and is set for a close encounter over the UK Jubilee Holiday on 3rd June, when they will pass within 2 degrees of each other. This is a line of sight effect as these diagrams show - there is no real danger of a collision as Venus is about 195 million km away, whereas Jupiter is at 900 million km. Mars, although also gaining on Jupiter, is being outpaced by the Sun and will be lost in the twilight in the coming days.

Jupiter and Venus continue to dominate the evening sky in the northwest after sunset, and Mars is just visible (above its name) though will soon be gone. The line-up is now very different to what it was a month ago - compare this picture with the one of 26th April, taken from the same spot at about the same interval after sunset: Venus is higher up, Mars is lower, and both have gained on Jupiter, which is now much lower in the sky than previously.

31 May 2002, 21:53BST (20:53UT). Minolta Dimage 7, 19.1mm, 1/6s @ f/3.5, ISO400

All the above pictures are taken from Hurst Green, Surrey.

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