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When the Planets Align

“Are there normally stars there?” I wondered aloud.

Have you ever caught something weird out of the corner of your eye and wondered, what did I just see? Even stranger, have you ever stared right at something and still wondered, what the heck am I looking at? This happened to me at 5:37 a.m. on Thursday, March 26, 2020, while walking my dog in the pre-dawn darkness. I was worrying over how crazy everything’s become during the COVID-19 pandemic across the state of Michigan when a collection of bright objects just above treetop level pulled me from my thoughts. There, in the southern sky, hung three yellowish-orange stars arranged like a backwards Nike swoosh. They seemed… off. I’m not an astronomy expert, but I’ve looked at the sky often enough to know that those stars just didn’t quite fit.

“Is one of them a planet?” In a move that would have made Galileo’s head explode, I popped my smart phone out of my sweat pants pocket, tapped on an astronomy app, and immediately discovered that I was looking at not just one, but three planets: Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. And suddenly, despite my existential worries, the tiny hairs across my forearms and at the base of my skull prickled in the cool morning air. I’m looking at Mars, Jupiter and Saturn! They’re like, a gazillion miles away, but I’m seeing them all in one place!

In my 42 years, I’ve never looked to the sky and seen them clustered like that. After a little web research I realized it’s not actually all that rare, but I’ve never seen it before. I’ve never been there at the right time and in the right place and actually paid attention to see these three mighty planets shining from across the solar system. Even as I worry about my daughter missing the last part of first grade, and even as I wait for my own wife’s COVID-19 test results to come back, the simple discovery of three yellowish-orange “stars” in the sky where I know they really shouldn’t be leaves me with a tingly sense of wonder. Nature’s still there, unfolding her mysteries one after another. And despite the fear and the uncertainty, I hope to keep my eyes open, and maybe even notice what I’ve never noticed before as I walk across this amazing Earth I call home.

Written by Justin Smith, Community Outreach Interpreter (Southern District)

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