Video of Planetary Conjuction - Jupiter, Mercury and Mars from 7th-16th December, 2006
Spot an Unusual Planet Trio:
Jupiter, Mercury and Mars are destined in the coming days to crowd into a small spot in the sky, making for a most intriguing gathering very low in the east-southeast sky.
A wide variety of different conjunctions and configurations involving the planets typically occur during the course of any given year. It is rather unusual, however, when three or more bright planets appear to reside in the same small area of the sky.
Jean Meeus of Belgium, recognized as a world authority in spherical and mathematical astronomy, has defined the term "planetary trio" as when three planets fit within a circle with a minimum diameter smaller than 5 degrees. Your clinched fist held at arm's length, for instance, is equal to roughly 10 degrees; the pointer stars at the end of the bowl of the Big Dipper are separated by just over five degrees).
Between Dec. 7 and 14, the planets Jupiter (magnitude –1.7), Mercury (-0.6) and Mars (+1.5) will fit within a 5-degree circle.
Gathering's proximity to the Sun will probably render Mars invisible (or nearly so) to the unaided eye. It is strongly recommend that you use binoculars if you have any hopes of seeing it. In contrast, Mercury and Jupiter should be readily visible to the eye with only slight difficulty, as they respectively will appear about 3 and 19 times brighter than Mars.
Each morning you'll be able to watch how these three worlds change their positions relative to each other.
What does make this trio special is that it is the most compact one in Dr. Meeus' list. Over that 70-year time span, there is no other case where three naked-eye planets converge to with less than one-degree of each other. The only planet trio that fits this criterion is the upcoming one on Dec. 10
The trio will be most compact—fitting within a 1-degree circle—on Dec. 10. On this morning, before sunrise, the three planets will resemble a compact arrowhead pointing west, with Mars at the arrowpoint. Through this 7-day interval there will also be separate conjunctions between Mercury and Mars (1.0-degree apart on Dec. 9), Mercury and Jupiter (only 0.1-degree apart on December 10th) and Mars and Jupiter (0.8-degree apart on Dec. 11).
Fact: From our Earthly vantagepoint, we can readily observe Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn with our unaided eyes as they revolve around the Sun. Each of these planets appears to move against the starry background at their own speeds and along their own tracks. It is obvious that since they are constantly moving at different speed, the positions of all five planets at any particular time is unique to that particular moment.
In other words :
Thursday December 7th, close to dawn around 40 minutes before sunrise facing between east and southeast. And even though there'll be a little bit of twilight you'll see three objects quite close together just above the horizon so make sure you've got a clear unobstructed horizon. The closest to the horizon and the brightest will be the king of the planets, 88,000 mile wide Jupiter. Just above it will be the rouge gold planet, much dimmer 4,000 mile wide Mars. And directly above and brighter than Mars is 3,000 mile wide Mercury. And if you have a pair of binoculars please use them.
You see for one week starting on the 7th these three planets will be super close but will constantly change their position from day to day. For the entire week they will all fit within the field of view of a pair of binoculars. On Friday the 8th they're even closer and on Saturday, Sunday and Monday the 9th, 10th and 11th they will fit inside a circle only 1 1/2 degrees wide.
So close together, a circle only 3 full Moon widths wide could contain them. But the closest morning of all will be Sunday morning, December 10th, when they'll fit within a circle little more than one degree or two full Moon widths wide. Wow!
On the 11th they're still extremely close and then they'll start to pull apart on Tuesday the 12th, a little less close on Wednesday the 13th, and Thursday the 14th is the last really good day to see this triple pairing. But if you're going to choose two days only I recommend Sunday morning December 10th when they'll be at their absolute closest and monday morning the day of their second closest meeting. Use binoculars for an even better show! And remember that even though these planets will all appear very close from the 7th through the 14th, it's really all an optical illusion.
Indeed they are each at incredibly different distances from our Earth. The closest, Mercury will be approximately 120 million miles away, Mars will be 230 million miles away and Mercury a whopping 600 million miles from Earth! So mark the second week of December 2006 as the most planet fun week of the entire year and get thee outside as many mornings as you can. Let the planet show begin.