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Planetary Alignment


Staff member
May 25, 2011
near Blacksburg, VA
Lucky Muscle Cramp


For days now, the local meteorologist has mentioned getting up just before dawn, to view the alignment of Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn. Then, in their forecast they have consistently predicted overcast skies. I didn't want to get up early anyway.

At about 5:20 am this morning, I was awakened by a muscle cramp in my leg. Dammit! No going back to sleep. I got dressed in the dark. When I went into the kitchen to make a mug of coffee, but before I had turned on a light, a bright flash of white caught my eye through the window. I went out to the darkened front porch.

There, just above the southeast horizon was a brilliant, fingernail of a moon. The sky was clear! I donned a hat and coat, then walked out to the road for a clear view of that horizon. It was just early enough that the usual 6:00 am parade of cars headed to work did not ruin my dark vision. With a glow of pre-dawn in the southeastern sky obscuring the stars, both Jupiter and Venus stood out to the left of the crescent moon. If I averted my central gaze just to the left of the imaginary line connecting those two planets, I could see one additional dot higher on that line. (Foveal vision—the best at color vision—is poor at registering dim light, but peripheral vision is more sensitive to it.) My guess is that I was seeing Mars, though I could not determine the color.

The scene actually was worth getting up to see.