Students can see five planets at star party

Keep watching the skies, because SHSU students are invited to participate in observing a rare astronomical phenomenon this Saturday.

The SHSU physics department, along with the Society of Physics Students and the Huntsville Amateur Astronomy Society, will be hosting a “star party” on April 3 to center on the rare event of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn all being visible together in the sky to the naked eye. The opportunity to see all five planets at once occurs very seldom, and conditions will not be optimal to see all five so clearly again until 2036.

Visiting assistant professor, Brian Oetiker, said the party would be held at the campus observatory, located on Highway 19. The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. and last until 9 p.m., and will feature numerous activities centered on the event.

“We’ll have a number of telescopes set up,” Oetiker said. “And if weather permits, a telescope will be set up aimed at each planet.”

The physics department will also provide a telescope with a special filter on the lens for participants to look at the sun as well. Observations will begin at 6:30 p.m.

While all five planets will be visible at once, Oetiker said that students will have to look early in order to see the phenomenon.

“Mercury and Venus will only be visible early in the evening,” he said. “They’ll set early.”

Oetiker also said that a telescope might be set outside to view Mercury since trees outside the planetarium may obstruct the view.

Along with telescopes to view the cosmic bodies, there will also be a slide show set up inside one of the classrooms in the observatory that will provide information about each of the planets. Also, members of the Society of Physics Students will hold a silent auction with various astronomy items up for bidding.

The physics department hosts a “star party” once a semester, with the last one having been held in September 2003 to view Mars. Oetiker said that while this phenomenon is of little importance other than being an unusual event, it would be of significance to those curious about the nature of space.

“If someone is interested in astronomy, it’s a once in a 30 year opportunity,” he said.

The event is open to everyone in the Huntsville area, though Oetiker encourages SHSU students in particular to participate.

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