YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – We’ve seen pictures of the planets in a line, but does this ever happen?
Because of the tilt of their orbits and the way they’re oriented, the eight major planets of the Solar System can never come into perfect alignment.
The last time they appeared even in the same part of the sky was more than 1,000 years ago, in the year 949 AD. They won’t do this again until May 6, 2492.
But roughly every half-century or so, the brightest planets take up positions in the night sky, and they seem to be more or less in a straight line.
The last decent display was in April 2002, when Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus and Mercury were strung above the western horizon with the crescent moon as its center.
We’ll see this again — 23 years from now — on September 8, 2040.
What about the gravitational effects of an alignment. Any danger here?
None, the pull on the Earth is negligible.
But, these alignments are useful.
During the 1970s, NASA used an alignment of the planets to send the Voyager space probes on a ‘grand tour’ of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The gravity from one planet flung the spacecraft onto the next.
This kind of alignment happens once every 175 years.
NASA scientists figured out how to use it just in time.
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