This is as seen from Earth. As seen from the sun, the five planets, which in order from left to right are Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus, span 50°. The Earth is in the opposite direction. As seen from far above the sun they do indeed look aligned - as they actually are.
After passing Mars at 8:08 UT on the 5th, the moon leaves the sun and planets behind, but the five planets continue to converge (and to become even less easily visible). In sequence, Jupiter is in superior conjunction, Mercury passes Jupiter, Mercury is in superior conjunction, Saturn is in superior conjunction, and Venus passes Jupiter. This last conjunction, which takes place at 10:30 UT on May 17, determines the smallest geocentric spread in longitude of the five classical planets (and the sun, but not the moon), which span 19° 25'. The moon is in a kind of alignment by being 170° opposite the sun and 21 hours before full. This is a second instant for astrologers and psychics to focus on. All planets are too close to the sun to be seen. After this moment, Jupiter's slower eastward motion causes it to lag behind the others and the planets begin to spread out.
A notable feature of the May 17 minimum span is that Venus and Jupiter are separated by only 42 arcseconds! Venus almost occults Jupiter. It would be a wonderful sight were they not less than 7° from the sun. This close conjunction has already been compared to the 2 B.C.E. conjunction of the same planets that is often identified as the Star of the Magi in the Book of Matthew.
This page was created by HAG (thorn.HAG@gmx.de) Last Update: 07.01.2000