Three Planets above Egyptians Pyramids on December 3, 2012?
Tonight for December 3, 2012
Here’s the exact configuration of the planets Mercury, Venus and Saturn on the morning of December 3, 2012, as seen from the site of the Giza pyramids in Egypt.
Venus, Saturn and Mercury are all in the predawn sky in early December 2012, but not exactly in the way that a widely circulated image on the Internet shows them. Instead, on December 3, 2012, they’ll look like the chart at right, as seen from the site of the three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis bordering what is now El Giza, Egypt. Will Mercury, Venus and Saturn be close together in the predawn sky in early December? Yes. Does this configuration happen only every 2,737 years? Well, we’re not sure what’s meant by that. The planets appear near each other all the time – constantly – as seen from Earth’s vantage point, as they and we orbit the sun. Mercury, Venus and Saturn were together in the sky last in 2005.
Will Mercury, Venus and Saturn appear as this photo shows, over the Egyptian pyramids? No. Not sure how this planet-pyramid story started circulating, but it’s possible someone noticed (or searched for) a true sky event in December 2012 (peak month of 2012 doomsday hype) and then manufactured the false images below. The images were made before the event happened, so we know the images below are photoshopped illustrations.
THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN ON DECEMBER 3, 2012. The image is an exaggeration of a true, and common, sky event.
Here’s another version of the photoshopped illustration, showing three planets above pyramids at Giza on December 3, 2012. This image, too, is an exaggeration of a common sky event.
What’s happening with the planets Venus, Mercury and Saturn in December 2012? Nothing unusual. Venus is shining before dawn. It has been shining before dawn since June 2012. Remember the cool Venus transit in early June 2012? That’s when Venus crossed from the evening to the morning sky. As the innermost planet, Mercury always appears either before dawn or after sunset. It shifts from place to place half a dozen times each earthly year. So if Venus is up before dawn, Mercury is bound to be near it at times. Saturn, too, returns to the predawn sky at least once every year. Why? Because Earth orbits the sun once a year. So our own motion in orbit places Saturn on a yearly cycle in our sky.
What’s cool about what’s happening on December 3, 2012 is that these three planets will be equidistant from each other. Will they be exactly above three Egyptian pyramids as shown in the illustrations above? No. But someone standing in just the right spot near these pyramids should be able to get the planets to appear above the pyramids in a picturesque way. For sure, if you stand in a particular spot near the pyramids – facing them, and facing the eastern sky before dawn – you should be able to see the planets and the pyramids together. That would be a nice thing to see! If anyone gets a photo of this, please drop us a note via the Contact button at the top of this page, or post it directly to EarthSky’s Facebook page.
Here’s the real thing. Mercury, Venus and Saturn as seen December 2, 2012 over Oslofjord, an inlet in southeast Norway, by EarthSky Facebook friend Jann Peter Normann. Thank you, Jann Peter! We know you can see Venus. Look closely for Mercury (lower left) and Saturn (upper right). View larger.
What’s puzzling about this Mercury-Venus-Saturn-pyramid story is that there was a much better display of two planets earlier this year. In March 2012, the two brightest planets – Venus and Jupiter – had a dazzling conjunction in the evening sky. Someone standing in just the right spot in March could have captured a great photo of Venus and Jupiter above the pyramids of Giza. So why did the perpetrators of the photoshopped images above choose Mercury-Venus-Saturn instead to portray, instead of Venus and Jupiter? Not sure. Venus and Jupiter were much more spectacular than Mercury-Venus-Saturn will be!
Why do these planets appear in a line in the predawn sky right now? The planets in our solar system all orbit the sun in a nearly flat plane. So – whenever we see planets near each other in our sky – they always appear in a graceful line across our sky. This line across our sky is the same one traveled by the sun in the course of a day. It’s the same path traveled by the moon. Why? Because most objects in our solar system orbit in this flat plane of the solar system. Of course, this pathway across our sky has a special name. It’s called the ecliptic. Read more about the ecliptic here.
These widely circulating images of Mercury, Venus and Saturn above the Egyptian pyramids reminds us of the false image of India at the 2012 Diwali festival. People love to take real events or images and manufacture something exaggerated from them. Why? We don’t know.
The moon will sweep past the planets in the morning sky beginning around December 10, 2012. That will be cool to see!
By the morning of December 11, the moon will be closer to Venus. Catch the planets and moon on these mornings! They’ll be much more beautiful than any image of them can convey.
The good news for skywatchers is that Saturn and Venus are now making it easy for us to find Mercury, which, as the innermost planet of the solar system, moves from place to place in the sky so often that you might be likely to miss it. To see these planets, find an unobstructed eastern horizon and get up about 90 minutes before sunrise. Look low in the eastern sky for dazzling Venus, the brightest star-like light in the morning sky. Saturn shines a short hop above Venus and Mercury a short hop below. A line from Saturn through Venus points out Mercury’s place on or near the horizon. If you can’t see Mercury with the eye alone, try binoculars.
It rarely gets any easier than this for seeing Mercury in the Northern Hemisphere. Mercury reaches its greatest elongation west of the sun on Tuesday, December 4. That means this often hard-to-see world is climbing above the southeast horizon a maximum time before sunrise. Given a level and unobstructed horizon, Mercury rises about one and three-quarter hours before the sun at mid-northern latitudes, and about an hour before sunup at middle latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere.
Mercury shines as brilliantly as a first-magnitude star. The innermost planet isn’t hard to see because it’s dim. It’s because – as seen from Earth – this world stays perpetually close to the sun, so it’s often lost in the twilight glare. But with Mercury swinging to its farthest point west of the sun, before sunrise tomorrow is about as good as it gets for catching Mercury in the morning sky.
No, that’s not the moon! It’s Mercury, the innermost and smallest planet of the solar system. Image via Messenger
Our chart at top shows the sky scene for about one hour before sunrise at North American mid-northern latitudes. But it’d be better to get up sooner if you can, using Saturn and Venus to catch this elusive world just as darkness gives way to dawn. Look first for Venus and then Saturn up above. If you don’t see Mercury on line with Saturn and Venus, wait a little while as Mercury may still be below the horizon.
Don’t fret if you miss Mercury tomorrow. Keep using Saturn and Venus to locate Mercury near the horizon, for the innermost planet will reign as a morning “star” for another two to three weeks!
Bottom line: Will Venus, Saturn and Mercury appear above Egyptian pyramids in early December 2012, as a widely circulated image on the Internet suggests? Well, it’s true they’re all together in the eastern, predawn sky. That’s a fairly common event. But the images being circulated – showing them above the pyramids – are an exaggeration of a true sky event. The good news: these planets will be beautiful in early December! If you watch the night sky on a regular basis, you know it conveys a profound beauty and order every day of the year. And if you’re lucky enough to observe them from the Egyptian pyramids, hey, we envy you!
In ancient times, astronomers tracked the orbit of Venus very closely, discovering that it traced a pentagonal rose pattern in the sky over eight years (Fig. 1). Caused by a planetary resonance where Venus orbits the Sun thirteen times for every eight orbits of the Earth, this rose-line or “rosslyn” pentacle was greatly revered in the mystery schools. It was even used as a blueprint to design the “sacred spaces” of many famous chapels, cathedrals and temples.
As I came to discover, a sacred space is far more than just a matter of religious belief. It is a special kind of resonant chamber designed to enhance entheogenic communion and focus psychedelic visions. Suppressed long ago by the Roman Church, this was once the real purpose of ancient temples and many medieval cathedrals.
Resonant Symbols of Venus
In 2006, I saw a press release announcing that the resonance patterns of a song had been carved into the arches of Scotland’s 15th-century Rosslyn chapel. Curious as to why resonant patterns would be carved into the architecture of a medieval chapel, I began to study the chapel. It was not long before I began to suspect that Rosslyn had been built to honor Venus and its resonant rose-line.
The most obvious clues were the thirteen cherubs and eight dragons carved into the easternmost pillars, suggestive of the 13:8 Venus-Earth orbital resonance. This connection made sense since the ancient Greeks and Romans considered cherubs the children of Venus while serpent-dragons were also associated with the Venusian goddess Shukra in the Rig-Veda. The discovery in 2010 of two manmade beehives carved into the chapel’s roof seemed to confirm this connection between Rosslyn and Venus, as bees are an ancient fertility symbol for Venus.
Yet, there were more clues that connected Rosslyn with Venus. Pentagrams carved underneath the cherubs suggest the pentagonal rose pattern of Venus while each cherub is shown playing a musical instrument, an obvious reference to the goddess of music. This musical symbolism extends even into the proportions and acoustics of the chapel’s architecture.
For instance, the inner dimensions of the chapel form a double square measuring 36 by 72 feet with a diagonal distance of 80.5 feet that is proportional to the square root of five. Since the famous golden ratio constant is derived from the square root of five and every orbital intersection of the Venus rose-line creates a golden ratio, the chapel seems built to harmonize with Venus. Add to this the fact that the choir loft height of 44.5 feet forms another golden ratio to the total interior length (as 72′ / 44.5′ = 1.618) and it seems hard not to conclude the Lady Chapel was built as a temple to Venus.
Acoustically speaking, these dimensions make Rosslyn chapel a natural resonance chamber that propagates sound evenly while suppressing reverb and echo. It does this because of the damping effect of the golden ratio, long used in the design of “anechoic” musical instruments, auditoriums, recording studios and speaker enclosures. As an ideal acoustical damping enclosure, Rosslyn reflects the same damping effect Venus had on Earth during the harmonic formation of the solar system.
The Venus Blueprint
The presence of so many Venusian symbols would seem enough to qualify Rosslyn chapel as a sacred space. Cherubs, dragons, bees, pentagrams, the golden ratio and acoustical damping all point to Venus as the source of inspiration in the design. Yet, as I dug deeper I found that the chapel was in fact part of a more complex, multi-layered “sacred” geometry corresponding to the human body and fertility.
For example, when the square of the chapel’s overall length is combined with a circle having the same area, Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man fits perfectly within the chapel’s floor plan. His navel aligns with the east wall; his face fits inside an underground room; and the famous Journeyman or “Shekinah” pillar aligns with his perineum to create an obvious phallic fertility symbol directly in front of the holy of holies altar. Since Leonardo was still a baby when Rosslyn was being built, the chapel’s designers must have learned about the “squaring of the circle” and human-proportioned architecture from Vitruvius’ original treatise De Architectura (Fig. 2).
Figure 2. Vitruvian design of Rosslyn chapel.
But, this is not all. When the triangular façade is laid inward, the tip touches the exact center of the Shekinah pillar. Indeed, a scale model of the Great Pyramid can be unfolded around this central fertility pillar to create the well-known Knights Templar symbol. Could all of this be part of the secret art and architecture of sacred acoustical spaces, I wondered, passed down from antiquity through some esoteric current?
The more I looked, the more sacred geometries I found. Still, I had no idea where this practice had originated or why it would be so important to create such geometrically and acoustically harmonious chambers for religious worship. That is, until I saw a mysterious etching on the south wall of the chapel’s underground sacristy (Fig. 3).
Figure 3. Rosslyn Meru tower etching.
Resembling an oil derrick or electrical tower, the Rosslyn etching has diagonal struts and a flat top with a semicircle funnel or “cup” sitting on top. Through the middle of the tower runs an axis with two wavy lines wrapped around the top like the serpents in a medical caduceus. Finally, as an apparent reference to the orbital geometry of Venus, there is a pentagram star at the top left.
After pouring through various ancient texts to see if anything looked similar, I found a Jainist illustration of a tower modeled after an ancient sacred mountain named Meru. I learned this mountain tower was a Vedic stupa design used in many temples and government buildings. Studying the Rig-Veda, I learned that Meru was not considered a physical mountain at all but instead believed to be an invisible and transcendental mountain that extended from the deepest ocean into the furthest sky – a heavenly place where the gods danced and sang. Of course, this is an obvious anthropomorphization of the planets and stars into deities, but it is much more than this.
According to Vedic grammarian Pingala in his Art of Prosody (400-200 BC), Meru was considered a “mountain of cadence” known today as the Fibonacci series. Since this series converges toward the golden ratio, both Meru and Venus share this constant of nature. Discovering this, I began to wonder if the orbital geometry of Venus might have been used to design Rosslyn as a recreation of the sacred mountain and temple to Venus.
So, I overlaid the orbital geometry of Venus onto the chapel floor plan to see if anything aligned. Drawing a square grid from the orbital intersection points, I was stunned to see the orbital rose-line of Venus align with many features and dimensions of Rosslyn chapel. Converting the rose-line into a stack of pentagrams, I could identify even more alignments with the floor plan, including length and width dimensions, locations of pillars, placement of doors and even the thickness of walls (Fig. 4).
Figure 4. The Venus Blueprint of Rosslyn Chapel.
Surrounding the whole thing with the geometry of an egg, associated with Venus and commonly used in Vedic temple design, I found that the star-egg combination fit perfectly in the chapel. Naming it the “Venus Blueprint,” I hypothesized it was used as a “temple template” to design sacred spaces that would resonate in tune with the 5-fold geometry of the human body and, in particular, the pentagonal egg of the cranial cavity. But toward what purpose would someone go to such trouble? What would be so sacred about this particular design?
Discovering the Venus Blueprint in the floor plan of Rosslyn chapel encouraged me to look for it in the floor plans of other churches, cathedrals and temples. To my astonishment, I found that many other European cathedrals do indeed use the same interior proportions and that many famous temples from antiquity even match the Venus Blueprint. St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican appeared to be based on this design, as did the Roman Pantheon and Greek Parthenon. Even Solomon’s legendary Temple of Jerusalem seemed to have been constructed according to the Blueprint.
In finding so many examples, I could only conclude the orbital resonance of Venus had been the guiding model behind ancient temple building for millennia and that Rosslyn was a kind of Rosetta Stone built to teach the world about the Vedic concept known as the Sound Current that flows through everything. It teaches how the pentagonal resonance of Venus was used in ancient temples to ask the goddess to fertilize crops and assist in childbirth. It tells us how she was adored for her celestial fertility and assistance in ascending Meru after death. But most of all, the Lady Chapel teaches us through her musical architecture about spiritual freedom and how to liberate the mind.
In examining the acoustical properties of the chapel, I calculated that at a room temperature of 20°C, the chapel’s prime resonant frequency is 27 hertz with a wavelength equal to the 72-foot interior length of the chapel. This means that the chapel is naturally tuned to A-422.25 – a tuning known as “classical tuning,” used as the standard reference pitch during the 18th century. This is significant because it happens to be a very natural tuning that can help synchronize the human mind with the Earth and all of nature.
Twenty-seven hertz is about equal to the fourth harmonic of the Schumann resonance of the Earth’s ionosphere – the very frequency where the human brain switches from Beta wakefulness to heightened Gamma awareness. Brain wave frequencies above 27 hertz then create the highest state of focus possible. The Gamma range is associated with peak concentration, enhanced memory, an increased perception of reality and even euphoria. The higher the frequency the greater is the cognitive ability.
There is also evidence that Rosslyn was heated during funerary rites to raise its tuning well above A-422.25, elevating human consciousness even more. Describing this practice is an old Scottish legend preserved in a poem by Sir Walter Scott entitled The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Scott tells how the chapel was seen engulfed in flames during the funerals of the Sinclair Barons whose family built Rosslyn chapel.
O’er Roslin all that dreary night,
A wonderous blaze was seen to gleam;
Twas broader than the watch-fire’s light,
And redder than the bright moon-beam.
Seem’d all on fire within, around,
Deep sacristy and altar’s pale;
Shone every pillar foliage-bound,
And glimmer’d all the dead men’s mail.
… Then sudden, through the darken’d air
A flash of lightning came;
So broad, so bright, so red the glare,
The castle seem’d on flame.
… And fill’d the hall with smouldering smoke.
Not coincidentally, the temperature required to gestate a beehive is 33.72°C (equal to 93.7°F) – the very same temperature required to raise the tuning of Rosslyn up to A-432 or what is known as “universal tuning.” At this hive temperature, singing the right chant and music could push the brain further into the Gamma range, perhaps even inducing what is known as “unity of consciousness.”
Thus, the beehives in the chapel’s roof, the symbolic children of Venus, may have been used as a kind tuning fork to measure the temperature and frequency needed to reunify human consciousness, fertilize the spirit and perhaps “hatch” a soul during funerary rites. It appears the Venus Blueprint not only creates a wonderful anechoic acoustical space to cleanly propagate speech and music but also a psychoacoustical space capable of triggering elevated states of consciousness.
Digging deeper into the history of temple rituals, I uncovered yet another clue that seemed to explain why such psychoacoustical effects were so important to temple builders. It had to do with the long tradition of consuming communal wine and bread in remembrance of various plant deities known as “Green Men.” In Rosslyn chapel, there are over one hundred such Green Men carved into the architecture, symbolizing the importance of communion in temple ritual.
In the Rig-Veda, the Green Man was the moon god Soma who was associated with a communal wine of the same name. Researchers such as R. Gordon Wasson make a convincing case that Soma contained psychedelic Amanita Muscaria or “magic” mushrooms. There are many instances throughout the Vedas ascribing great powers to Soma and its ability to induce religious visions.
Oh, King Soma, prolong our lives
Like the sun who nourishes the days every morning.
The Soma is full of intelligence
It inspires man with enthusiasm
It makes the poets sing.
We have drunk the Soma: we have come to be immortal, we have arrived at the Light, we have reached the Gods.
Half of me is in the skies, and the other extends to the low depths
Have I drunk Soma? I am tall to the utmost, my elevation reaches the clouds Have I drunk Soma? (Rig-Veda 8.48)
This is not an isolated instance. Use of psychedelic or “entheogenic” plants was common in many other cultures as well. This includes the Greek Eleusinian and Dionysian mystery schools, the Roman Bacchanalia and even the ancient Etruscans, who practiced entheogenic communion on what is now Vatican Hill. Persians would ingest psychedelic Syrian Rue seeds used to dye “magic carpets” while the Egyptians ate manna cakes made with psychotropic plants, such as “blue lotus,” Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms or perhaps DMT-rich acacia, the Egyptian Tree of Life.
According to psychology professor Benny Shanon at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, entheogenic communion was also central to the Hebrew temple tradition. The head priest would take a communion in the holy of holies on Yom Kippur that consisted of entheogenic wine and manna. Indeed, Shanon attributes many of the visions and miracles of the Bible to the ingestion of psychoactive plants. He suggests entheogenic communion was a central part of the Essene mystery school, but later replaced by ordinary wine and bread in the Roman Church to ensure religious visions remained exclusive to the priestly class (the Holy See).
In Rosslyn chapel, the many carvings of Green Men with leafy vines growing out of their mouths suggest this same connection through the Essene mystery school back to the ancient Hebrew communion ritual. It would not be a surprise to learn that such communion was even practiced in Rosslyn chapel, perhaps offered as a “consolamentum” to dying barons or taken on auspicious occasions.
The true purpose of Vedic temple building was now becoming clear. When combined with entheogenic communion, temples were designed to help propel one’s consciousness into the sky in order to reach the heavenly summit of Mount Meru. Known as enlightenment or ascension, this occurred when one consumed the sacred plant known as the “Savior,” the “Redeemer,” the “Liberator,” and “Anointed One.” Through such psychedelic visions, one might “see the light” and be “born again.”
To help focus and control these visions, first caves and then stone temples were constructed using the Venus Blueprint to help resonate the brain into the Gamma range of frequencies. Known as the “House of the Star” in Canaan and “Place of Intoxication” in Egypt, such temples were likely built according to the Blueprint to fertilize the mind inside the “variegated womb” of Venus. Here the Savior plant could be eaten and reborn into the mind of the worshiper, attaining “Christ [King] consciousness” and rising to the summit of Mount Meru to meet the goddess or other spirit who would impart prophetic visions and great wisdom. Truth is, this is the true religion of the world and unspoken source of prophecy behind countless tales of journeys into the underworld to meet the gods and goddesses.
The two together – the plant god and temple goddess – then represented the celestial congress of the Sun and Venus inside the mind. As I came to understand, this metaphysical union was a kind of reenactment of the rare conjunction of Venus with the Sun known as the Transit of Venus. The Vedic Saivite glosses actually describe this conjunction as the Venusian goddess Shukra being swallowed up by the Sun and later spit out as semen. Indeed, the Sanskrit word Shukra literally means semen. It was the Shukra seed of the Sun that was believed born from Vena’s resonant womb into the waters of the Earth to create life.
“This Vena impels them who are in the womb of the variegated one; the membrane of light measures out the sky. At the contact of the waters and the sun the wise kiss him as an infant.” (Rig-Veda 10.123)
Celestial fertilization of the mind was the real purpose of the temple. Consumption of entheogenic wine and manna symbolized the “virgin birth” of the Sun’s son (the plant sacrament) inside the temple of the mind. In this way, the orbital geometry of Venus provided not only the blueprint for the sacred space of the temple, but also a blueprint for the ritual of ascension known as Holy Communion.
The Venus Transit
Coming in pairs only once a century, the last Venus Transit occurred in 2004 with the next one expected on June 5-6, 2012. Appearing as a black dot as Venus travels across the face of the Sun, the transit was known in ancient times as the circumpunct, Eye of Ra and the Birth of Venus. As the ultimate symbol of celestial fertility, the planet Venus was worshipped in the form of many different goddesses from Isis and Ishtar to Aphrodite and Asherah.
In ancient times, the celestial fertilization of Venus during the transit would have been celebrated in Sumerian, Babylonian, Akkadian and Assyrian temples (called ziggurats) using entheogenic communion and resonant chant. In many cases, sexual intercourse would have been part of the temple rite, representing simultaneous fertilization of the mind, body and spirit. This would have been the deepest meaning of the ancient philosophy “as above, so below.”
In Rosslyn chapel, the Hebrew goddess of Venus named Asherah is represented by the Shekinah pillar. As the harmonic center and point of fertility in the chapel’s floor plan, we might say the Hebrew god Yahweh symbolically inseminates the Lady Chapel here. Yet there is more to it than mere symbolism. There is a very real geometrical correspondence to the actual transit path of Venus across the Sun in 2012 (Fig. 5).
Figure 5. The Venus Blueprint and Birth of Venus through Rosslyn chapel in 2012.
Overlaying the Venus Blueprint onto the actual transit paths, Venus can be seen to align with the bottom two points of the pentagram during the 2004 crossing – then, with a 90-degree turn, pass right through the middle of the Rosslyn floor plan in 2012, reaching the midpoint of its solar crossing precisely at the Shekinah pillar. Symbolically, this path represents a kind of birth canal for Venus, gestating inside the choir’s resonant womb for a while before being born out the rear of the chapel.
With the chapel oriented east-to-west and the Shekinah pillar facing the dawn, the Sun and Venus actually follow an east-to-west path through the sky even as Venus appears to follow the same path across the face of the Sun. As perhaps one of the most profound convergences of planetary harmony, temple design and religious ritual, Rosslyn is a stone map for the 2012 Venus Transit. As the fifth transit pair since Rosslyn was built, Venus joins with the Sun this June 5th-6th to deliver a new Sun.
The question, of course, is how could Rosslyn’s 15th-century designers have known about the geometric alignment between the transit and the chapel’s floor plan? How could they have predicted such an alignment in their design? The truth is they probably knew none of this and did not need to. They simply built their temple according to the Venus Blueprint and everything else just fell into place.
In the end, I became convinced that Rosslyn chapel and many other temples had been designed using the Venus Blueprint or something similar. I believe this was done to focus and control the effect of psychedelic plants while using psychoacoustics to resonate the brain up into elevated Gamma frequencies. Combining sacred plants with sacred spaces, our ancestors were nothing less than spiritual psychonauts. Using an advanced technology of brain resonance – resonating inside-out with entheogens and outside-in using psychoacoustics – they were able to access non-physical realities by methodically altering and controlling states of mind.
Once people were baptized with the sacred waters, the temple became a transceiver and spiritual launch pad to guide them into the realm of the gods. Used in funerary rites, this same technology was used to invoke Venus to guide the dearly departed into the afterlife where they might be reborn to the heavenly summit of Meru. (Fig. 6).
In this way, ancient worshippers were enlightened by the Venusian goddess and “born again” through the Green Man’s “body and blood.” Here was the real savior of humanity – a veritable blueprint for spiritual fertility that inspired vast temple complexes, great cities and proud civilizations. Here was the secret temple template for sacred spaces that guided humanity toward the development of music, science and mathematics, only to be discarded in the rush for political control. This is the forgotten story of the Venus Blueprint and its founding role in the rise of humanity.
Figure 6. Meru temples as a launch pad into the sky.
As the year 2011 comes to a close, some might wonder what is looming sky-wise for 2012? What celestial events might we look forward to seeing?
I’ve selected what I consider to be the top 12 “skylights” for this coming year, and list them here in chronological order. Not all these events will be visible from any one locality … for the eclipses, for instance, you’ll probably have to do some traveling … but many can be observed from the comfort of your backyard.
Hopefully your local weather will cooperate on most, if not all, of these dates. Clear skies!
This meteor shower reaches its peak in the predawn hours of Jan. 4 for eastern North America. The Quadrantid meteor shower is a very short-lived meteor display, whose peak rates only last several hours. The phase of the moon is a bright waxing gibbous, normally prohibitive for viewing any meteor shower, but the moon will set by 3 a.m., leaving the sky dark for a few hours until the first light of dawn; that’s when you’ll have the best shot at seeing many of these bluish-hued meteors.
From the eastern half of North America, a single observer might count on seeing as many as 50-to-100 “Quads” in a single hour. From the western half of the continent the display will be on the wane by the time the moon sets, with hourly rates probably diminishing to around 25 to 50 meteors.
The first major meteor shower of 2012 takes place on the night of Tuesday, Jan. 3 and the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 4. It peaks at 2 a.m. EST (0700 GMT) on Jan. 4.
CREDIT: Starry Night Software
Feb. 20 to March 12: Best evening apparition of Mercury
In February and March, the “elusive” innermost planet Mercury moves far enough from the glare of the sun to be readily visible soon after sunset. Its appearance will be augmented by two other bright planets (Venus and Jupiter), which also will be visible in the western sky during this same time frame.
Mercury will arrive at its greatest elongation from the sun March 5. It will be quite bright (-1.3-to-0 magnitude) before this date and will fade rapidly to +1.6 magnitude thereafter. Astronomers measure the brightness of objects in terms of magnitude, with lower numbers corresponding to brighter objects.
March 3: Mars arrives at opposition
On March 3, the Earth will be passing Mars as the two planets wheel around the sun in their respective orbits. Because Mars reaches aphelion — its farthest point from the sun — on Feb. 15, this particular opposition will be an unfavorable one. In fact, two days after opposition, Mars will be closest to Earth at a distance of 62.6 million miles.
Compare this with the August 2003 opposition when Mars was only 34.6 million miles away. Nonetheless, even at this unfavorable opposition the fiery-hued Mars will be an imposing naked-eye sight, shining at magnitude -1.2, just a bit dimmer than Sirius, the brightest star, and will be visible in the sky all night long.
Astrophotographer Jeffrey Berkes of West Chester, Pa., snapped this stunning view of planet Venus and the crescent moon during a bright conjunction on Dec. 26, 2011.
CREDIT: Jeffrey Berkes
March 13: Brilliant “double planet”
The two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, team up to make for an eye-catching sight in the western sky soon after sunset. They will be separated by 3 degrees on this evening, Venus passing to the northwest (upper right) of Jupiter and shining nearly eight times brighter than “Big Jupe.” Although they will gradually go their separate ways after this date, on March 25 and 26, a crescent moon will pass by, adding additional beauty to this celestial scene.
May 5: Biggest full moon of 2012
The moon turns full at 11:35 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time and just 25 minutes later it will arrive at its closest point to the Earth in 2012, at a distance of 221,801 miles. Expect a large range in ocean tides (exceptionally low to exceptionally high) for the next few days.
May 20: Annular eclipse of the sun
The path of annularity for this eclipse starts over eastern China and sweeps northeast across southern and central Japan. The path continues northeast then east, passing just south of Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain. The path then turns to the southeast, making landfall in the western United States along the California-Oregon coast. It will pass over central Nevada, southern Utah, northern Arizona, the extreme southwest corner of Colorado and most of New Mexico before coming to an end over northern Texas.
Since the disk of the moon will appear smaller than the disk of the sun, it will create a “penny on nickel” effect, with a fiery ring of sunlight shining around the moon’s dark silhouette. Locations that will witness this eerie sight include Eureka and Reading, Calif.; Carson City, Reno and Ely, Nev.; Bryce Canyon in Utah; Arizona’s Grand Canyon; Albuquerque and Santa Fe in New Mexico and just prior to sunset for Lubbock, Tex.
A partial eclipse of the sun will be visible over a large swath of the United States and Canada, including Alaska and Hawaii, but no eclipse will be visible near and along the Atlantic Seaboard.
June 4: Partial eclipse of the moon
This partial lunar eclipse favors the Pacific Ocean; Hawaii sees it high in the sky during the middle of its night. Across North America the eclipse takes place between midnight and dawn. The farther east one goes, the closer the time of moonset coincides with the moment that the moon enters the Earth’s dark umbral shadow.
In fact, over the Northeastern United States and eastern Canada, the only evidence of this eclipse will be a slight shading on the moon’s left edge (the faint penumbral shadow) before moonset. Over the Canadian Maritimes, the moon will set before the eclipse begins. At maximum, more than one-third of the moon’s lower portion (37.6-percent) will be immersed in the umbra.
June 5: Rare transit of Venus across the sun
The passage of Venus in front of the sun is among the rarest of astronomical events, rarer even than the return of Halley’s Comet every 76 years. Only six transits of Venus are known to have been observed by humans before: in 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874, 1882 and, most recently, in 2004.
The next one will occur in the year 2117. When Venus is in transit across the solar disk, the planet appears as a distinct, albeit tiny, round black spot with a diameter just 1/32nd of the sun. This size is large enough to readily perceive with the naked eye. HOWEVER … prospective observers are warned to take special precautions (as with a solar eclipse) when attempting to view the silhouette of Venus against the blindingly brilliant solar disc.
The beginning of the transit will be visible from all of North America, Greenland, extreme northern and western portions of South America, Hawaii, northern and eastern portions of Asia including Japan, New Guinea, northern and eastern portions of Australia, and New Zealand. The end will be visible over Alaska, all of Asia and Indonesia, Australia, Eastern Europe, the eastern third of Africa, and the island nation of Madagascar.
Perseids composite, seen Aug. 12-13. Concentric circles are star trails.
Aug. 12: Perseid meteor shower
Considered to be among the best of the annual displays thanks to its high rates of up to 90 per hour for a single observer, as well as its reliability. Beloved by summer campers and often discovered by city dwellers who might be spending time in the country under dark starry skies. [10 Perseid Meteor Shower Facts]
Last summer a bright moon wrecked the shower by blotting out many of the fainter streaks, but in 2012 the moon will be three days past last quarter phase on this peak morning – a fat waning crescent presenting only a minor nuisance for prospective observers.
Nov. 13: Total eclipse of the sun
The first total solar eclipse since July 2010. Virtually the entire path of totality falls over water. At the very beginning, the track cuts through Australia’s Northern Territory just to the east of Darwin, then across the Gulf of Carpentaria, then through northern Queensland, passing over Cairns and Port Douglas before heading out to sea.
The rest of the eclipse path, including the point of the maximum duration of totality (4 minutes, 2 seconds) is, unfortunately, pretty much wasted by falling over the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Dec. 13-14: Geminid meteor shower
If there is one meteor display guaranteed to put on a very entertaining show it is the Geminid meteor shower. Now considered by most meteor experts to be at the top of the list, surpassing in brilliance and reliability even the August Perseids.
Bundle warmly against the winter chill; you can start observing as soon as darkness falls on the evening of Dec. 13 as Gemini starts coming up above the eastern horizon and continue through the rest of the night. Around 2 a.m. when Gemini is almost directly overhead, you might see as many as two meteor sightings per minute … 120 per hour! And the moon is new, meaning that it will not be a factor at all.
CHANCE OF FLARES: NOAA forecasters have upgraded the chance of X-class solar flares today to 20%. The source would be AR1339, one of the biggest sunspots in many years. The active region rotated over the sun’s eastern limb two days ago and now it is turning toward Earth.
The sunspot has already unleashed one X-flare on Nov. 3rd around 2027 UT. A movie from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the extreme ultraviolet flash:
The flare created waves of ionization in Earth’s upper atmosphere, altering the normal propagation of radio waves over Europe and the Americas. In Ireland, the flare’s effect was felt even after dark.
A cloud of plasma or “CME” raced away from the blast site at 1100 km/s. The CME is not heading for Earth. It is, however, heading for Mercury and Venus. Click on the arrow to view a movie of the CME’s forecast track:
Analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab say the CME will hit Mercury on Nov. 4th around 16:14 UT. NASA’s MESSENGER probe in orbit around Mercury will be monitoring the effects of the impact. If the CME overwhelms Mercury’s relatively weak magnetic field, it could scour material off the planet’s surface creating a temporary atmosphere and adding material to Mercury’s comet-like tail. The CME should hit Venus on Nov. 5th; the gossamer cloud will probably break harmlessly against the top of planet’s ultra-dense atmosphere.
FARSIDE CME: Yesterday, October 4th, something exploded on the far side of the sun and propelled a spectacular CME into space. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory recorded the cloud as it emerged from behind the sun’s limb:
Analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab have combined observations from SOHO and the twin STEREO spacecraft to calculate the CME’s trajectory: It is heading for Mercury. The CME will hit the innermost planet on Oct. 5th around 04:30 UT plus minus 7 hours. Energetic particles accelerated by shock waves at the leading edge of the cloud could also have minor effects on the MESSENGER probe in orbit around Mercury. The CME’s forecast track shows that Venus might also receive a blow on Oct. 6th.