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May 3, 2000

When Planets Align . . .

Planetary Alignment

James O'Leary,
Senior Director of Technology,
IMAX Theater and Davis Planetarium at the Maryland Science Center

The moon won't be in the seventh house, but Jupiter will align with Mars. And Earth, Mercury, Venus, Saturn and the Sun. But unlike the famous "Age of Aquarius" that brought peace and love, the planetary alignment predicted to occur May 5 will bring about earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, the melting of polar ice caps, volcanic eruptions, and global economic crises. Or rather, that's what the doomsayers would have you believe.

Just when you thought millennial madness was over, the alignment is fueling dire predictions for natural disasters and economic chaos that make the worst case scenarios about the Y2K bug look like a slight case of the sniffles. "Everytime there is an unusual occurrence in the sky," says O'Leary, "you find some predictions like this."

What can you expect when the six planets group around the Sun? According to O'Leary and experts in the field of astronomy...nothing.

Many of the doomsday predictions are based on the idea that the gravity of the planets will affect the Sun and The Earth. "That won't happen. The planets are so far away that they don't have that kind of effect," O'Leary says. Don't expect to see anything, either, because all the planets will be on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth.

Although unusual, similar planetary alignments have happened every 20 to 40 years without incident. What's the official word on whether all these planets so close together could spell disaster for planet Earth?

No. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (folks who know a bit about the solar system) has issued its own advice on the events of May 5. "Like most other 5ths of May, the one in the year 2000 is a more appropriate occasion for Cinco de Mayo festivities than for disaster planning."

So what's behind all the hype? "It's an opportunity to sell a book, sell products and make yourself famous," speculated O'Leary.

Aspiring astronomers and amateurs alike can visit the Davis Planetarium at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore's Inner Harbor Thursday nights from 5:30 to 10 p.m. for a free look at the planets. (photo courtesy of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

The Related Sites are provided for information purposes. NM is not responsible for the accuracy of their content.

  >  Davis Planetarium, part of the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, offers educational and informational resources and schedule of astronomical events.
  >  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), offers an astronomical view of the Planetary Alignment of 5 May 2000.
  >  NASA Science News, explains what to expect from the April 6 and May 5 planetary alignments.
  >  Bad Astronomy, discusses the Harmonic Con(game)vergence, or do planetary alignments cause earthquakes?

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