We were hoping to view the alignment five planets that is currently happening. Yesterday 6:00 AM found us awake looking at dark clear skies. Jupiter was just rising above our nearby high ridge. Thin low clouds frequently blocked our view as the bright planet remained for a time below the tree line. Celestial observations in our area are severely impacted by nearly constant cloud cover or river fog. We were unwilling to let this opportunity to see the five planets arranged in a line pass us by. A short road trip to a hill top with an unobstructed view to the east was necessary.
It was a cold morning with the temperature in the single digits. We quickly bundled up. A light coating of snow crunched under our feet the way it does only in this kind of cold. By the time we were road ready, the sky was filling with morning light. When we finally reached the hilltop, only one planet remained visible in the ever brightening light of dawn. A second factor impacted our chances of finding other planets. We thought that common sense indicated that the other planets would be found along a nearly vertical line extending from Jupiter to the horizon. The planets travel an area of sky near the path of the sun and everyone knows that the sun is overhead by noon. However, at this time of year the sun follows a path well south of overhead. As it turns out, some of the remaining four planets might have been found had we looked along a nearly horizontal line trailing behind Jupiter.
We were awake early this morning ready to try again using our newly found correct information. All that we could see today were cloud bottoms. Despite decades of repeated attempts, we have never seen Mercury. It never ventures far from the sun and our high horizons limit dark sky near sunrise or sunset. On the plus side, our location has once again spared us from the fierce winter storm that is now moving up the coast. We should see only broken clouds and sunshine today as the storm passes far to our east. Perhaps we will have a chance to try again tomorrow!