by C. Todd Reichart
On Friday night, June 24, I fell asleep on the couch in front of the television. I woke up around 2:30 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, June 25, my body contorted and failing to get comfortable on the short couch. As I tramped toward my proper bed, I had just sufficient clarity to remember the planets-all-in-a-line observing opportunity that very night with my fellow amateur astronomers. I was awake, I was dressed in yesterday’s clothes, I could disguise my unruly hair with a baseball cap, so I had no good excuse not to get out to see this rare phenomenon. I confirmed that the sky was clear, grabbed my red-light headlamp, got in the car, and drove to the soccer fields at Washington Crossing Park. Wow! It was totally worth it!
I saw Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn just by looking up along the ecliptic. I saw the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn through reflectors setup by Dave and Jennifer Skitt. I saw Uranus and Neptune through a refractor setup by Tom Swords. And as day was just breaking through, I saw Mercury through a pair of borrowed binoculars. That’s seven planets in one night! I looked at the ground beneath my feet to add Earth to my list. Eight planets, the complete set! That was the first I’d ever seen Uranus and Neptune and the only time I’d ever seen all the planets in our solar system at once.
I managed to snap a photo handheld with my iPhone 13 Pro (attached). Along the ecliptic from left to right are Venus, the moon, Mars and Jupiter. The two stars paralleling the ecliptic between the moon and Mars are Hamal and Sheratan in Aries.
I have no recollection of what I was watching on TV earlier that night, but I’ll long remember what I saw in the sky that night into morning. Thank you so very much to the Princeton amateur astronomers who setup and shared their equipment to make that experience possible.