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Sun, April 21

Rare event will grace local skies

PRESCOTT – A once-in-a-lifetime event will coincidentally begin with Astronomy Day Saturday.

That's the first day that sky watchers will be able to see five planets and the moon line up in the same area at dusk.

Look west during twilight to see the planets. They are, in order of lowest to highest in the sky: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.

A prominent star also is visible near the planets: the red eye of Taurus the Bull, Aldebaran, which is similar in color to Mars.

While all five planets are visible with the naked eye, the Prescott Astronomy Club will help people get an even better view from club members' telescopes Saturday.

"It's a very exciting thing, because it's not going to happen again in my lifetime," club board member Neil Stockton said.

The club will set up more than a dozen telescopes with mirrors as large as 16 inches for the public to use.

The event begins at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, so people also can check out the sun and its currently active sunspots. If they're lucky, they even may see a solar flare, Stockton said.

The club also will set up numerous exhibits inside the museum's transportation building from 1 p.m. until 7 or 8 p.m. Saturday, including the latest high-tech astronomy software, club members' photos, mirror grinding and polishing demonstrations, and written materials including information about the club.

The event is free to the public, and sky viewing continues until approximately 10:30 p.m. People also will be able to spot the Orion nebula and other objects in the sky.

The planetary show will continue on through May, with the planets moving toward each other, meeting and then changing positions in the heavens before Jupiter starts disappearing down into the glow of sunset.

On May 5, for example, Venus, Saturn and Mars will form a triangle so tight that viewers will be able to see all three at once through a pair of binoculars.

All five planets will be clustered close together on May 14.

This good of a night-time planetary line-up hasn't occurred since February 1940, and it won't return again until Sept. 8, 2040, astronomers say.

For more information about the planetary event, including details about how the planets will line up each week, visit the Star Gazer Web site at www.jackstargazer.com, or the Sky & Telescope Web site at http://skyandtelescope.com.

Contact Joanna Dodder at jdodder@prescottaz.com

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