A central Iowa astronomer says Midwestern stargazers will have an unusual treat over the next week or so. Five planets are visible in the night sky, weather permitting, just after sunset. Doug Rudd, president of the Des Moines Astronomical Society, says it’s rare to see a grouping like this — in fact, there won’t be another collection of five planets within plain view until 2036.Rudd says the brightest two are Venus and Jupiter, but Mercury, Saturn and Mars are also going to be quite bright, if you know where and when to look. He says amateurs wouldn’t know the sparkling points of light from stars, but he says with a little guidance, and the help of a telescope or binoculars, the planets can come alive. He says Jupiter is clearly distinguishable as a planet.In centuries past, a massing of five major bodies in the heavens would have caused a stir among some people. Rudd says early cultures saw planets as “wanderers” in the skies and their gathering was significant — and foreboding.Planets sometimes changed their positions from night-to-night and were thought to be “conspiring” if they grouped together, though it was up to interpreters to say whether the nocturnal meetings were for the planning of good or bad events.
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