I’m getting messages from scared people today. The fearmongers and charlatans are saying that a giant planet Nibiru is going to appear during this solar eclipse and is due to hit Earth or do a devastating very close flyby 33 days later on September 23. No! This is total BS and nonsense promulgated by people who couldn’t predict the date of a solar eclipse or where to watch it if their life depended on it.
To everyone who is still scared today - nothing is going to happen I assure you. It's just a shadow. You are getting scared of a small shadow 70 miles wide passing briefly over the surface of Earth. Meanwhile you experience an average of twelve hours of darkness every single night.
It darkens any particular point for at most 2 minutes 40 seconds, with the Moon's shadow moving over Earth's at supersonic speed because the Moon moves so fast in its very distant orbit around Earth. And we have 68 total eclipses this century.
But there is something rather special to see, this eclipse. For those watching the eclipse, you will see two bright planets near the eclipsed sun. These are not Nibiru. They are Venus and Jupiter and you can also pick out the rather fainter Mars and Mercury too. It’s an unusual opportunity to see four of the brightest planets - all the naked eye planets except Saturn, in one go.
Mercury is very hard to spot normally because it orbits so close to the Sun so for many people this may be the first time you've ever seen it. It is often visible but you need a low horizon and it looks like a faint star in the sky when the sky is still quite light because of the newly set or soon to rise sun.
Eddie Irizarry / Stellarium
You may notice Mars for its reddish tint, although it is not particularly bright, no brighter than the stars around it. Venus is the brightest star-like object in the sky, and Jupiter the next brightest, so they should be easy to spot. You should spot Venus before totality and even in places that don’t quite get a solar eclipse.
Mercury looks like a fainter star and you will need to know where to look to look to spot it. The planets are all roughly in a line, the line of the ecliptic as they all orbit in roughly the same plane as Earth around the Sun. So if you draw a line from Venus to Jupiter, then Mars and Mercury are not far from that line, with Mars above it to the right of the eclipsed sun, and Mercury below it, to its left.
Mercury is a special treat for amateur astronomers as you don’t often get to see it unless you have a low horizon to West or East of the place where you normally watch the night sky.
Saturn is below the horizon during the eclipse as seen from the US.
Regulus (bright star in the constellation Leo) confuses the picture a bit. The moderately bright star very close to the sun and to its left is not a planet, if you do spot it (may be hard to see).
Other bright stars in the sky include Sirius, Arcturus and Capella. See the EarthSky post for details of what you’ll see when See 4 planets during the total eclipse | EarthSky.org
Eddie Irizarry / Stellarium
Indeed, if you are unable to view the eclipse at all, for instance here in the UK where I live, you can still try spotting Venus. You can do this at any time, not just during the eclipse. Block out the sun, perhaps behind a building, and you can use the finder chart to try the challenge of spotting Venus and perhaps the fainter Jupiter too, in a daytime sky. They are quite hard to spot but when you know exactly where to look, they are visible as bright white specks in the equally bright blue sky and when you notice them, they can “pop into view”. I might give this a go next clear sky here in cloudy Isle of Mull :).
Here is a video to help you spot them.
To find out whether you can see totality and for how long, see this interactive overlay on Google maps.
For a weather forecast for your location see this page - it's easy to have the sun blocked by clouds and keen eclipse chasers look for places with clear weather. Warning - it's one of those ad supported pages that blasts music at you when you load it, but if you mute the sound, it's got good information there.
- Why the eclipse this August is a wonder of nature and not something to be scared of
- Debunked: Nibiru will hit or fly past Earth in September (or October or November) 2017 - David Meade’s “prophecy”
- Is Nibiru a Hoax?