UAE: Planet parade, wolf moon to light up skies; how to watch without telescopes

Experts advise that residents should find a dark spot with a clear view of the relevant horizon to observe the phenomena

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Nandini Sircar

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Published: Sun 7 Jan 2024, 5:19 PM

Last updated: Mon 22 Jan 2024, 10:33 AM

[Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 7. It is being reshared to inform readers about the second phenomenon set to happen on January 23.]

As the new year kicks off, sky gazers are in for a visual treat with two celestial phenomena set to take over UAE skies. Residents will have the opportunity to watch a visible parade of planets and a 'wolf' moon this month.

A planet parade occurs when multiple planets in our solar system align or cluster closely together in the night sky. Experts in the field explain how searching for planets in the solar system isn’t as tricky as one may think.

The planets will tease us early in 2024, with the best part being that they can be seen with the naked eye in the country on January 10 and 23 in the absence of clouds.

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Experts advise that residents should find a dark spot with a clear view of the relevant horizons, such as east/southeast on January 10 or south on January 23 to observe the planet parade.

Planet parades, varying in spectacle, range from three-planet formations — like a celestial triangle — to rare and breathtaking alignments of five or six planets of our solar system, offering captivating displays in the night sky.

Sarath Raj, Project Director, Amity Dubai Satellite Ground Station and AmiSat Amity University Dubai, said, “On the early morning of January 10, a breathtaking quartet of planets will be visible in the skies of Dubai in the southeast before sunrise. Venus and Mercury will dazzle around 45 minutes before the Sun rises, followed by Jupiter and Saturn joining the parade as the morning progresses. This parade will remain visible until the sun appears. Among these, Venus and Jupiter will be perfectly visible even without binoculars."

"In addition, on the evening of January 23, the Dubai sky will experience a spectacular trio of planets adorning the night sky. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn will present a stunning display throughout the night, easily discernible with the naked eye, even in light-polluted areas,” he added.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Mohamad Shawkat Odeh, Director of the Abu Dhabi-based International Astronomy Centre said, “You can see most of the planets on that single night. Starting from dawn, towards the East, one will be able to see Venus, below which Mercury can be spotted. Below Mercury lies the red planet, Mars."

"All these planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn — are bright objects and can be seen with the naked eye almost any time, except for the short periods when they are near the Sun. The remarkable thing on that day is that all these planets can be seen on the same night,” he added.

This temporary alignment is a visual spectacle resulting from the planet’s orbits around the Sun, contributing to a dynamic and ever-changing cosmic display.

However, Odeh points out, that this is not entirely uncommon, but it is interesting because on a single day, all these planets can be viewed by the naked eye.

“About an hour before sunrise, gazing towards the East reveals Venus — the brightest celestial body in the sky following the Sun and the Moon. While Mercury and Mars are visible without aid, using telescopes can enhance the observation to see more details on the planet’s surfaces. After sunset, both Jupiter and Saturn become visible. Even a week before January 23, sky watchers might be able to spot Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter."

"What's incredible is the visibility of Mars and Mercury, which were close to the Sun before January 23, hidden by its glare. After that date, they gradually distance themselves from the Sun, becoming visible to observers,” he added.

Largest full moon of 2024

Meanwhile, another celestial phenomenon gracing the night sky will appear on January 25, 2024.

The wolf moon is the largest full moon of the year, appearing up to 14 per cent larger than usual.

“It is a beautiful and evocative name for the first full moon of the year, which typically occurs in January,” Raj explains.

Why is it called the 'wolf moon'?

The wolf moon is also referred to as the ice moon, the cold moon, and the disturbed moon. All of these names represent the harshness of winter in various places of the world.

Raj added, “For those observing in the Asia/Dubai time zone, the Moon is slated to rise at 5.30pm, reach its transit point at 12.40am, and gracefully set at 7.05am. Even with the naked eye, you might be able to discern some of the Moon's dark and light areas, called maria and lunares.”

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