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Opinion: Five planets end their merry dance and align in the night sky

Derek Bruff/Flickr) Related Story: Eyes to the skies: All five bright planets align for ..

Derek Bruff/Flickr)</span> </a> Related Story: Eyes to the skies: All five bright planets align for first time in decade Related Story: Five planets on display in rare treat

For the second time this year, the five brightest planets can be seen at the same time. You can catch them by looking towards the western sky after sunset. The planets will form a line rising up from the horizon.

Mercury and Venus are low to the west, with bright Jupiter shining just above. Higher up in the northwestern sky is Saturn, and completing the set of five is the red planet Mars, high overhead.

Tonight, a beautiful crescent Moon sits just to the right of Jupiter. Keep watching the planets night after night and you can track the progression of the Moon.

As the Moon zips around Earth each month, its apparent motion in the sky is much faster than the more leisurely motion of the planets in their orbits around the Sun.

After sunset around Australia, the five bright planets can be seen in the western sky this week

By Monday, October 15, the Moon will have moved higher in the sky to sit near Saturn, and a few days later, on October 18, the Moon will partner with Mars.

That will also be a perfect evening to see the planets, as Venus and Mercury will be sitting side by side. Of all the five planets, Mercury is the faintest and therefore hardest to see, so having bright Venus as a signpost to Mercury is always an advantage.

In about a week's time, Venus, which has been the bright evening star for most of this year, will move into the glare of the Sun and out of the night sky.

Five planets, two groups

The planets have been doing a merry dance in the night sky over the past few months.

Back in July, they also came together in the evening sky, but on that occasion they were stretched right across the sky. Mercury and Venus could be found in the west, while Jupiter, Saturn and Mars were rising in the east.

As Mercury and Venus are the inner planets, orbiting closer to the Sun than Earth does, we only ever see these two low to the west after sunset, or low to the east before sunrise. They are the planets either following or leading the Sun.

In contrast, the outer planets of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can drift right across the sky, which is exactly what they have been doing since July. The trio has moved from east to west, and now they join Mercury and Venus to put on the five-planet show.

There's more in store

It may seem like a common occurrence, since the five planets have come together again in the space of just a few months. But it's only possible because Jupiter and Saturn are currently on the same side of the Sun and therefore near each other, relatively speaking.

The five planets have come together twice this year and twice in 2016, but before that there was a decade when it just wasn't possible. The two gas giants were too far apart.

External Link: Youtube planets Watch the planets come together

As Jupiter and Saturn pair up in the sky, it's only a matter of time before the other planets fall into the right configuration to bring them all together.

The next time this occurs will be in July 2020, but it will be harder to see compared to this week. The planets will be stretched across the sky rather than all clustered together in the west as they are right now.

So it's still special to spot the five planets coming together. There's great satisfaction in being able to tick off all five planets in a single viewing.

Up for a challenge?

Not only are the five easy-to-see planets visible in the evening sky, but they are joined by Uranus and Neptune to complete the planetary set.

Voyager 2 flew by Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989

These two ice giants that orbit beyond Saturn are modern-day planets. They were not known in ancient times because their discovery needed the aid of a telescope and an understanding of gravity to know how the Solar System works.

But while they may not be seen with the naked eye, Uranus is low in the east at sunset and Neptune is higher up, about midway to Mars.

Practised observers, viewing the sky from a dark country site, have been able to see Uranus with the naked eye by knowing exactly where to look. Through binoculars, Uranus appears like a faint star but a good telescope will show its slightly bluish disc.

It is best to wait until later in the evening, when Uranus has risen higher, to try to observe it. But now is an ideal time, as the planet is approaching opposition on October 24, when it will be at its best.

Neptune is about the same size as Uranus but much further away, making it harder to see. Even with a modest telescope it appears as a bluish star, while the right observing conditions and a high-quality telescope are needed to reveal Neptune's disc.

Lastly, and not to be left out, even the dwarf planet Pluto joins the crowd. It's much too small and distant to be seen but currently sits about midway between Saturn and Mars.

Even with a high-quality telescope Pluto only ever appears as a faint star-like object, and it will be a challenge for most (myself included) to find it in its current position among all the stars near the bright Milky Way.

If you are up for the challenge, a free astronomy program such as Stellarium is ideal to help locate the planets. But it's just as rewarding to enjoy the five bright planets, observed since ancient times, briefly coming together in the western sky.

Tanya Hill is an honorary fellow of the University of Melbourne and senior Curator of astronomy at Museums Victoria, is a friend of The Conversation, where this article first appeared.

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China deploys anti-ship missiles in the desert making them harder to intercept

Beijing has announced it has deployed intermediate ballistic missiles to the country's north-we..

Beijing has announced it has deployed intermediate ballistic missiles to the country's north-west region, saying the weapons have the capacity to destroy US ships entering disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Key points:

  • The missiles can fire long distances and would be difficult for US ships to shoot down
  • Defence strategy expert Dr Malcom Davis said the move means China can back up its threats
  • The news came after a US guided missile destroyer passed through the South China Sea

The DF-26 missiles — which have been previously dubbed the 'Guam Killer' or 'Guam Express' by Chinese media and defence experts — are capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads.

They have a range of 4,500 kilometres, making them capable of reaching as far as Guam in the east and Indonesia in the south, providing Beijing with a powerful weapon as tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea.

External Link: @globaltimesnews: China's df-26 missiles

According to Chinese state media publication The Global Times, the DF-26 missiles are now stationed in north-west China's sparse plateau and desert areas, carried on the backs of trucks able to traverse the harsh terrain.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Beijing-based military expert told the Times that positioning the missiles deep in China's mainland made them more difficult to intercept as it allowed the missile to enter its final stages at a high speed.

Footage on CCTV showed trucks carrying the missiles driving through rough terrain and sand dunes.

The missiles were first paraded in 2015 and China confirmed they were now operational in April last year, but this is the first footage of the missiles outside of a parade.

It is unclear when the missiles were moved to the northwest region, the Times reported. (more…)

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Melbourne driver who cheated death when sign fell on car in no rush to drive again

Related Story: Dashcam footage shows moment car was crushed by falling freeway sign

The Melbourne ..

Related Story: Dashcam footage shows moment car was crushed by falling freeway sign

The Melbourne driver who cheated death when an overhead road sign fell and crushed her car says she cannot believe such an accident could happen in Australia.

Key points:

  • A second sign on the Tullamarine Freeway has been taken down as a precautionary measure
  • An inspection of similar-sized sign and gantries is underway
  • VicRoads says an independent investigator has been brought in to determine what happened

Extraordinary dashcam footage shows the moment the five-by-four metre sign fell in front of, and then on top of, Nella Lettieri's car as she was travelling on Melbourne's Tullamarine Freeway earlier this week.

While the 53-year-old was not seriously injured, she is bruised and battered — and wondering how she is still alive.

"It felt like a roller door had slammed shut in front of me," Ms Lettieri said.

"I've gone to swerve, but as I swerved, it just felt like the sign was actually falling on the car.

"And it just kept bouncing, and I felt like it was pushing me to the right, and I'm thinking, 'OK, is it going to stop?'"

A woman smiling and looking off camera.

She thought the metal object may have been from a plane landing or taking off from the nearby Essendon Airport, or from a truck on the freeway.

But she was shocked to discover it was actually an overhead sign, meant to be directing drivers to their destination. (more…)

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In his Brexit speech in Wakefield, Jeremy Corbyn again demanded the impossible

Speaking in Wakefield this morning, Jeremy Corbyn restated his demand for a solution to the Brexit i..

Speaking in Wakefield this morning, Jeremy Corbyn restated his demand for a solution to the Brexit impasse that appears effectively impossible: a general election.

In what is likely to be his last major public statement before MPs vote on the withdrawal agreement next Tuesday, he attempted to redefine the terms of the question facing both the Labour leadership and its MPs – from those that threaten to stretch his fissiparous electoral coalition to breaking point, to those which, on paper, unite it.

That resulted in a speech whose thrust was an appeal to class consciousness from Remainers in Tottenham and Leavers in Mansfield, rather than any meaningful debate over the validity or viability of Brexit itself. “Youre up against it,” Corbyn said, citing austerity, stagnant wages, and the cost of living crisis, “but youre not against each other.”

Accordingly, his cursory repetition of Labours policy – that a second referendum should remain on the table as an option in the event a general election does not happen – came with a caveat so huge that it amounted to an implicit dismissal of a so-called peoples vote. “Any political leader who wants to bring the country together cannot wish away the votes of 17 million people who wanted to leave, any more than they can ignore the concerns of the 16 million who voted to remain.”

But despite the fact that his attention was more or less exclusively focussed on the question of what sort of future relationship with Europe would negotiate – with the fact of the divorce undisputed – Corbyn categorically ruled out doing anything but whipping his MPs to vote against the withdrawal agreement. The vast majority of them will do so on Thursday, after which point Corbyn said, as expected, that Labour would table a motion of no confidence in the hope of securing an election and with it the chance to renegotiate Brexit (rather than, say, holding a second referendum).

Notably, however, he did not specify a timescale for tabling a confidence vote after Mays deal falls – despite several of his shadow cabinet ministers insisting that he would do so “immediately”. He instead put on the record the more cautious line briefed by his team yesterday: “Labour will table a motion of no confidence in the government at the moment we judge it to have the best chance of success.”

That statement of intent was followed with a caveat seldom offered by shadow cabinet ministers sent out to spin the partys line on Brexit. “Clearly,” Corbyn said, “Labour does not have enough MPs in parliament to win a confidence vote on its own.” As he himself alluded to when he urged opposition MPs to join Labour in voting against the government, Labours chances remain slim until such time that the ten DUP MPs drop the government. (That every other party will is a racing certainty.) Paradoxically, the defeat of the withdrawal agreement – and with it the backstop Mays sometime coalition partners object to – will make that chance even slimmer.

We know from what Corbyn said this morning that the Labour leadership will not whip its MPs to approve Theresa Mays Brexit, back a second referendum out of choice – both courses threaten its electoral base in different ways – or support any attempt by Downing Street to make the Brexit deal more amenable to Labour MPs by tacking on guarantees on workers rights. That strategy has held until now.

But failure to roll the pitch for any alternative at all – or, indeed, for the inevitable breakdown in party discipline after Mays vote is defeated and Labour has no way to bind MPs who seek mutually exclusive Brexit aims – will make the messy politics of the aftermath of next Tuesday rather more difficult to finesse.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent. (more…)

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