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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Planets align for stargazers

What does it mean when Mercury, Venus and Saturn align in the constellation Gemini? Pretty good astronomical viewing, according to local stargazers.

The three planets will be seen within a 2.5-degree span of the west-northwestern sky on Friday evening and will remain in close proximity for more than a week.

Jupiter can be seen higher in the sky to the southwest, and by the end of August, it will appear next to Venus.

The planetary alignment is known by astronomers as a “conjunction.” “It will be a really nice sight,” said Mary Singer of the Spokane Astronomical Society. “Mercury is always really low in the sky, so it’s a treat when we see it.”

Society members are planning two public viewing sessions just after sundown Friday. They will set up telescopes and provide viewing information at Shadle Park near the library and at city soccer fields along South Regal Street at 47th Avenue.

But you won’t need a telescope to see the planets, although telescopic views can reveal phases in Venus and Mercury similar to those that occur with the moon. The three planets should be easily visible to the naked eye, and through binoculars, they will appear in the same field of view.

Venus is so bright as an evening star that it can be used as a guide to spot the other two planets. Mercury, which orbits close to the sun, is visible only a few times each year.

On Saturday evening, Saturn will appear within one navigational degree of Venus. On Monday, Venus and Mercury will be within one-tenth of a degree of each other.

The twin stars of Pollux and Castor in Gemini will appear slightly to the right of the planets. The sun will move into the constellation Gemini in early July.

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