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Planets aligning for great celestial views

By Sheena McFarland

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published May 16 2013 05:10PM
Updated Dec 7, 2013 11:31PM

The planets are starting to align this weekend — and two star parties will allow viewers to get a closer look.

Mercury, Venus and Jupiter are moving toward aligning into a tight triangle the evening of May 26. However, this weekend, stargazers can catch some great views, weather permitting, as the planets move toward each other.

For a short time near sunset, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury will align with the sun in the west, quickly sliding beneath the horizon as the evening progresses, according to Joe Bauman, vice president of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society. By 10 p.m., only Jupiter will remain visible, and it too will set about half an hour later.

That view will be bolstered by the help of binoculars and telescopes, which will be set up Friday at the Brickyard Harmons store, 3270 S. 1300 East, and Saturday at the Stansbury Park Observatory Complex (SPOC), located at Stansbury Park in Tooele County.

The planets won’t be the only celestial sights to behold.

The moon’s position will allow for good views of craters, mountains and dry seas, among other features. Double stars, constellations and clusters of thousands of stars also will be viewable. At SPOC, the observatory’s powerful telescope should allow views of galaxies.

During the free star parties, local astronomers will hold drawings to give away telescopes, binoculars and books to children who attend. At Harmons on Friday, the prizes are two Dobsonian telescopes, one eight-inch diameter and one six-inch; two pairs of binoculars; two "first scope" telescopes and books. During Saturday’s SPOC event, the prizes will be two "first scopes" and one copy each of the books The Stars and NightWatch.

According to Mike Seaman, meteorologist at the National Weather Service, a low-pressure system will settle in and may create fairly thick cloud cover.

"There may be breaks at times," he said, "But it looks to be mostly cloudy skies."

Both parties depend on the weather, but if there are big patches of clear sky Friday or Saturday night, astronomers will be at the ready.

Twitter: @sheena5427

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