Pluto retakes last place
The solar system’s two planets farthest from the sun are switching places, an event that hasn’t happened in 20 years.
The event, which can be viewed by only the most powerful telescopes, is one of three rare astronomical occurrences happening in February, according to the University of Nevada, Reno.
“It’s kind of interesting to see three events like this and even more to have them all happen in the same month,” said Keith Johnson, associate director of the Fleishmann Planetarium.
Pluto – the smallest and, on average, farthest planet from the sun – has been closer to the sun than Neptune since 1979. Pluto’s path around the sun is egg-shaped and for a portion of its 248-year-orbit it is closer to the sun than Neptune. Around 2 a.m. Reno time on Thursday, Pluto will have moved farther away than Neptune.
The second astronomical event of the month is somewhat of a non-event.
“There is no full moon this month. Full moons take place on Jan. 31 and March 1, but there is none in February,” Johnson said. “January and March are both long enough that they will encompass two full moons each, the second being known as a Blue Moon. The last time this particular set of events occurred was 1915.”
The final event – and most spectacular, according to Johnson – will take place on Feb. 23, when the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, will pass close to one another.
“Such an occasion is called a conjunction, and this will be the closest conjunction between two planets for the year,” Johnson said. “Both Venus and Jupiter are brighter than any star, so the event will be easily visible to the unaided eye. Viewers can easily spot the pair low in the west after sunset.”
Fleischmann Planetarium in Reno will set up binoculars and telescopes on that Tuesday evening to give people a closeup of the event, Johnson said.
For information about viewing the Feb. 23 astronomy event at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Fleischmann Planetarium, call (775) 784-4812
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