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December 10, 2006

Mercury, Mars, Jupiter are aligned

The freaks are running for cover until the 14th of December because Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter have aligned themselves in a very small section of the sky. In fact, to the naked eye, they will look like a lopsided triangle.

These planets, especially Mars, may be hard to spot—even with binoculars—because of the twilight glare.

Given a bird’s-eye view of the solar system, you’d notice that relative to Earth, these planets are situated on the far side of the sun right now. All three planets orbit the sun eastward—or as seen from Earth, in the direction of the sunrise point on the horizon. Because Mercury orbits the sun much more quickly than Earth does, Mercury will drop closer to the glare of the sun day by day. As seen from Earth, Mercury will pass behind the sun in early January.

The Earth, meanwhile, orbits the sun more quickly than either Mars or Jupiter. Because the Earth travels eastward at a faster clip, these two planets will appear to climb upward in the dawn twilight throughout December. Next to Mars, Jupiter moves eastward at a snail’s pace. Therefore, Jupiter’s ascent into the morning twilight will be profound, whereas that of Mars will be rather low key.

Here's how it looks from Maui

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