News Service


Phil Appleton, Physics and Astronomy, (515) 294-3667
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- An elegant alignment of eight planets and Earth's moon, visible in the south-southwestern evening sky through Dec. 8, is a dramatic visual that brings astronomy to everyone, according to Phil Appleton, Iowa State associate professor of physics and astronomy.

"It's spectacular to see the planets aligned like this," Appleton said. "This type of event brings astronomy into the mainstream. It's something that can be enjoyed by everyone."

Appleton said that while all eight planets are aligned in an their ecliptic plane like pearls on a string, and accompanied by a crescent moon, people will only be able to see five planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Mercury) with the naked eye. Neptune and Uranus are telescopic objects only, and Pluto, the furthest planet, only can be easily seen through time- lapsed photography.

The best viewing time is around the evening twilight, when Mercury will be visible.

"This is an awe-inspiring sight, even if it is a normal event for our solar system," Appleton said.

A similar alignment of the planets is expected in May 2000, but they will be so close to the Sun that they won't be visible from Earth. The next such alignment in the evening sky isn't expected for another 100 years.

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