2022, March 28:  Rare Planet Alignment

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March 28, 2022:  Look for a rare alignment of Venus, Mars, and Saturn in the east-southeast before sunrise.  The crescent moon is nearby.

Photo Caption – 2022, March 28: A close bunching of Venus, Saturn, Mars, and the crescent moon.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:40 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:12 p.m. CDT.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Morning Sky

This morning’s planet alignment does not occur again until September 6, 2040.  Before sunrise, three morning planets – Venus, Mars, and Saturn – bunch in the east-southeastern sky.  They fit within a circle 5.3° across.

Photo Caption – 2022, March 28: A close bunching of Venus, Saturn, Mars, and the crescent moon.

Forty-five minutes before sunrise, step outside and look to the east-southeast.  Brilliant Venus is 11° up in the sky.  The crescent moon, 16% illuminated, is only about 5° above the horizon, 7.3° to the lower right of the gleaming planet.

Dimmer Saturn is between Venus and the lunar slice.  It is 2.1° to the lower right of Venus and 5.3° to the upper left of the moon.

Mars is 5.3° to the right of Venus and 5.0° to the upper right of Saturn.

Chart Caption – 2022, March 28: Through a binocular Venus, Mars, and Saturn fit within a circle 5.3°. The moon may in fit into the field of view as well.

The planetary triplet easily fits into a binocular’s field of view and the moon may fit as well into a binocular’s view with a “wide field” designation.

This is a spectacular sight!

In 2040, the three planets are closer, within a 3.9° circle.

Groupings within 5.0° are known as “planet trios,” named by astronomer Jean Meeus.  Most of these trios involve Mercury. Since 1980, nearly 30 such groupings have occurred, 60% of them occurred near the sun with Mercury included in the grouping.

Conjunctions of two planets occur relatively frequently.  Venus passes 2.1° to the upper left of Saturn tomorrow, followed by a close conjunction of Mars and Saturn on April 5.

After these upcoming conjunctions, Venus passes Saturn again on January 22, 2023. Mars passes Saturn again April 10, 2024.

The last planet trio for these three planets occurred on February 29, 1992 when they were in a circle 2.6° across, a close bunch of planets.

This morning the planets look close together from our earthbound view. Venus is nearly 70 million miles away, while Mars is nearly 100 million miles beyond Earth’s Twin Planet. Distant Saturn is nearly six times farther away than Mars. It’s quite a separation in interplanetary space, but they are in close proximity in our sky.

Until 2040, the three planets gather somewhat close together again.  The closest, though, occurs when Venus and Saturn are less than 4° from the sun.  The bunch is only 5.9° across on June 14, 2032, but not visible with conventional means.  On March 21, 2024, they span 13.5°, although Saturn might be a challenge to find in bright twilight.  Over a decade later, June 3, 2034, the three planets are 13.5° apart.

Photo caption – 2020, March 30: Mars is 1.2° to the lower right of Saturn.

Two years ago before the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, Mars passed those planets and the closest grouping of this triplet was 6.4° on March 30.

After the upcoming conjunctions, the morning planet dance is not finished.  Jupiter enters the morning sky, followed by conjunctions with Venus and Mars. 

This summer the five bright planets are visible with the moon before sunrise.  There is a basketful of sky events occurring before sunrise.

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