The conjunction of Earth’s heavenly neighbors—Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter—is a regular phenomenon attributed to their normal orbit around the sun, not a cosmic conspiracy that signals the end of the world as doomsayers fear, according to Dario dela Cruz, officer in charge of the Space Sciences and Astronomy Section of the Pagasa weather bureau.
Amazing sky show
To 81-year-old Fr. Victor Badillo, a Filipino Jesuit astronomer who has spent 30 years studying the firmament at the Manila Observatory, the cosmic phenomenon is just one among the many amazing sky shows to enjoy.
“There are so many wonderful things [in the sky] for us to enjoy than to worry about,” Badillo said by phone from the Jesuit Residence Infirmary at the Ateneo de Manila University.
Instead of treating this event as a harbinger of doom, it must be considered “something beautiful to behold,” just like the meteor storm in 1999 that marked the night sky with dazzling lights, he said.
Wake up early
Confined at the infirmary for seven years now, Badillo keeps himself busy blogging on his favorite topics ranging from astronomy and physics to theology.
“What [doomsayers] are saying is not true. You will just see the planets close to each other this month. They are visible to the naked eye before sunrise, best at 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on the eastern side,” Dela Cruz told the Inquirer.
“People should just enjoy it. Just wake up early to see it,” he said.
The planets’ orbit around the sun has brought them together on the same quadrant of the solar system, appearing on Earth’s sky as bright stars on the eastern horizon, Dela Cruz said.
Uranus and Neptune are also aligning but they can only be seen with the use of telescopes, he said.
The four planets started moving toward the same line this month and are currently in an “L” shape. The show’s climax has yet to come: On May 30, the four planets will appear closest to a straight line, punctuated by the crescent moon on the same horizon before daybreak.
“It’s best to observe on May 30, [when] they will be in an almost straight alignment. Jupiter is farther, Mercury, Venus and Mars are side by side, then there’s the crescent moon,” Dela Cruz said.
This planetary lineup has many times stirred doomsday predictions, most popularly that of the Mayans whose ancient calendar is believed to say that the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012.
Called a “fable” and “Internet hoax” by the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), the story is that a planet called Nibiru is on a collision course with Earth and will hit on that date, per the Mayan calendar.
But on its website—not surprisingly, on the “frequently asked questions” tab—Nasa debunks any end-of-the-world theory, saying “there is no credible evidence” backing claims of a 2012 apocalypse.
“Nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than four billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012,” Nasa says.
As for planetary alignments, Nasa declares: “Their effects on the Earth would be negligible.”
Dela Cruz said a similar phenomenon was observed in 2002, when five planets—the same four plus Saturn—were seen aligned in the sky.
Three planets also aligned in 2003.
Even Catholic priests were unimpressed by the latest doomsday scare brought about by the planet alignment, saying it would be foolish to worry about the end of the world when each one had his/her own ending to prepare for.
“What we should be scared about is our own death, whether we are ready or not to face it when it comes,” said Fr. Francis Lucas, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Social Communications and Mass Media.
Lucas said that even without the current scare, people were dying every day, with thousands being victims of violence, abuses and accidents around the globe.
“We should prepare for our own death instead of thinking about the end of the world,” Lucas told the Inquirer in a phone interview.
Not a rarity
Badillo said that in his years working as head of the Manila Observatory, he had witnessed planets forming a line several times.
“This is not very rare … Sometimes we have two planets close together; sometimes we have three, or four or five,” he said, adding:
“Planetary lineups have happened many times before and there was no end of the world [so they are not interrelated].”
The Manila Observatory, a non-profit research organization housed at the Ateneo, is engaged in research on various subjects, including seismic and geomagnetic events and solar physics.
It initially served as a weather forecasting and earthquake research unit when the Jesuits established it in 1865.
One thing that scientists can predict is when these celestial events would take place, using scientific calculations, Badillo said.
But no one, not even scientists, can tell when the world will stop turning.
“In the Bible, the Lord said nobody knows when the hour or day will come. No one can know … If anybody says he knows, then he must be better than Jesus,” Badillo said.
Like a race track
To help the people understand the cosmic phenomenon, the Jesuit priest likened it to a race track with a number of runners moving at various speeds.
If an observer is in the middle of the race track, the runners will appear to be overlapping or close to one another after running for some time, with some finishing more loops than the others, he explained.
“It will not have any effect on Earth because these planets are far away, unlike the moon, which affects water tides,” Badillo said.
“This phenomenon only proves that the planets are running around the sun; some are faster and some are slower,” he said.
Citing an observation, Badillo said many people always fussed about the end of the world when there were many things happening around them.
“People are getting hit by cars... People don’t look for fire exits in movie houses, so they end up getting hurt in stampedes,” he said.
“There are many more disasters that we can prevent [and] that’s what we should do rather than think about something that’s up, up in the sky.”
According to Lucas, among the many predictions by mystics and seers across the world, the Catholic faith only recognizes the prophecies and warnings resulting from the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal, to three young shepherds—Lucia Santos and Jacinta and Francisco Marto—beginning on May 13, 1917.
“The prophecies have come true, particularly the end of World War I and the start of World War II,” he said.
Other Fatima prophesies were that the world would continue to suffer wars and disasters and that the people would continue to be detached from their faith, Lucas said.
But none of these prophecies stated that the world would end through a planetary alignment, he pointed out.
“Unless that’s the third secret of Fatima, which I doubt,” he said.