Planet Gazing

by Anne

On the retreat last weekend, a bunch of us were trying to identify which of the stars were actually planets. Nobody knew, but we did come up with some questions:

Do the planets appear to be in a straight line? Do the planets twinkle or not? Can you tell by the color?

I haven’t figured it all out, but I did find some resources online.  What it looks like so far is that the planets do roughly follow the path of the ecliptic, which is the apparent path of the sun across the sky over the course of one year.  So I think this means that it would look like the planets are almost in a line, which the three that we were looking at were.  This is because the orbits of the planets around the sun are all almost on the same plane (with just a few degrees of variation), so the solar system is sort of flat. To really make sense out of all of this, I think I’d need to act it out…

I also found out that stars twinkle, and planets do not (not sure why though).  We should go to a Mt. Tam star night!

Some websites I liked:

http://www-istp.gsfc.nasa.gov/stargaze/Secliptc.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecliptic

http://www.nightskyinfo.com/

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/mjpowell/Astro/Naked-Eye-Planets/Naked-Eye-Planets.htm

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