Rare Dec.3 planet alignment over Egyptian pyramids? Well, sort of

Venus and Saturn pair up this morning seen from Duluth, Minn. around 6:30 a.m. They were a little more than 1/2 degree apart. They’ll also be this close tomorrow morning. Photo: Bob King

It was only 1 degree above zero this morning, but at least the wind had died down. Venus and Saturn made a very attractive couple out my east-facing window. After donning at least 5 lbs. of clothing and boots, I stepped outside in the crunchy snow to have a look. Through the telescope Venus shown pure white, making fainter Saturn appear even yellower than usual. If you missed it, take a look at the pair tomorrow an hour to an hour and a half before sunrise.

Photo / illustration of the supposed planetary alignment over the three great pyramids of Giza that’s been circulating on the Internet.

A reader recently posted a photo and asked me to comment about its accuracy. You may have seen this picture circulating on the Internet showing a near-perfect alignment of Mercury, Saturn and Venus over the three major Pyramids of Giza not far from Cairo, Egypt on Monday morning Dec. 3. Along with the image the claim is made that this alignment occurs only once every 2,737 years.

There are several inaccuracies in the picture you should know about.

First, let’s take the alignment itself. While it’s true the three planets will be nearly equally spaced across a 14-degree swath of sky next Monday, they’ll appear at a much steeper angle from Cairo than the photo/illustration shows. And they won’t queue up in a perfectly straight array either — notice that the “line” sags at Venus.

There’s also a little problem with the illustration’s perspective. After consulting a map, it was easy to determine the photo shows the pyramids as you face north. From this perspective, the smallest pyramid (Menkaure) lies to the left and tallest (Khufu) on the right. Unfortunately no planets are visible from this angle, because they’re all to the photographer’s back in the opposite quarter of sky. Whoops!

A more correct view of the planets and Giza pyramids on the morning of Dec.. 3. From bottom to top: Mercury, Venus and Saturn. Illustration created with Stellarium

For a view that’s much closer to how the actual alignment will appear, I’ve taken the liberty of flipping the image left-right and adding in the correct positions of the planets as seen by an observer near Cairo, Egypt using the star-charting software Stellarium. Please note that flipping was done for illustration purposes only.

For a completely accurate portrayal of the scene during the alignment, we’d need to walk over to the other side of the pyramids and re-shoot the picture facing southeast. From that vantage point, you’d see something much closer to the scene above.

As for a lineup like this occurring every 2,737 years, well, alignments happen all the time including those involving three bright planets. While this exact configuration may be rare, the alignment itself is not. That’s not to say that the event isn’t worthwhile to watch. Hey, I’d be happy to see three planets above the Pyramids of Giza, but better and brighter alignments occur all the time, like the similarly-spaced dawn trio of Mercury, Venus and Jupiter last August.

Whether you’re standing in front of pyramids or watching from your apartment lawn, I hope you’ll be able to watch the trio as they meet, greet and go their separate ways in the coming days.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

46 thoughts on “Rare Dec.3 planet alignment over Egyptian pyramids? Well, sort of

  1. Yes, I had a friend asking to me about that Pyramids photo, and I replied him with more or less the same arguments, especially the ecliptic angle.
    And of course it doesn’t happen every 2737 years. Venus aligns with Saturn every about 2 years. Mercury is, as Venus, near to Sun, so the event is not rare.
    Really Mercury is seen only at a max elongation, and with steep ecliptic (especially if one wants to see it over a Pyramid, let’s say 10° high), and must be on same side respect Sun as Venus (for example, both planets seen at dawn); such an elongation is, say, a week long, 2 times per year, so 1/25 of the time. Result for this triple alignment is hence about once per 2 years x 25 = 50 years. Just an estimate of the order of magnitude. But certainly not 2000 years.
    Of course as you say if one considers a conjunction of any 3 of the 5 major planets, the event is quite common.. we had 3 this year, if I’m not wrong.

    • Was wondering if the earth axis tilting 3 degrees when the tsunami hit Japan will have any affect on the line ups, now and future? And why is the moon shadowing from top to bottom after a full moon rather than left to right?

      • ToniMarie,
        Oh, my. That would be a lot of tilt! No, the axis may have been moved 10 inches at most, an exceedingly tiny amount which no one will notice except maybe the gps satellites. The earthquake made very minute changes as well to the length of the day. These tiny changes are routine over the history of our planet, since earthquakes are common.
        The reason the shadow switches over before and after full moon has to do with the changing geometry of the moon and sun as seen from Earth. Before full moon the moon moves away and to the east of the sun. As the angle between moon, Earth and sun widens, the moon fills out with light night by night. At full, the moon is directly opposite the sun and fully illuminated. After full, the moon moves back in the sun’s direction. As the angle between it, the Earth and the sun decreases, more and more of the moon becomes shadowed until its directly between Earth and sun. Then it’s 100% in shadow and invisible – that’s the new moon phase. Here’s a diagram to help you visualize: http://www.moonconnection.com/moon_phases.phtml

        • Thank you very much! I know someone up north growing crops and the crops had to be moved in order to get the same sunlight which came to exactly 3 degrees off with the mountain angles and all. I’ve also heard that the entire continent moved 8ft. Yes, these degrees and movements might seem small but they are huge and, yes, I would think they would have a bigger effect on the world than what it has. There doesn’t seem to be much difference but could it affect the lineups in the future if the 3 degrees and 8ft movement were, in fact, true?

          • And the diagram looks as the moon should but the moon doesn’t look like that in the sky. It didn’t look like that last night. It’s shaping into a smile rather than a crescent. I’ll keep watching it. I’ve been a moon watcher all of my life and it just seems different now. I’ll also do further research.

          • ToniMarie,
            The effects were very, very tiny. Nothing like what your friend described about sun angle. That would be catastrophic!

  2. I don’t know how many times I will have to say this, the Mercury, Venus and Saturn convergence will not look like that picture… that is simply art… someone created that picture to help spread the word about this extremely rare spacing of the planets. No other Pyramids at Giza theory is as precise as what you will see on December 3, 2012. All three planets match perfectly dead center with all three pyramids at Giza… not that they will be dead center over those pyramids, rather their spacing is perfectly dead center to all three pyramids.. That is what makes it so rare, extremely rare! Plus all the other nuances that connects this date with December 21, 2012. To find out what those nuances are please go to this link;
    http://blog.world-mysteries.com/science/2012-and-the-pyramids-at-giza/

    –Charles Marcello

    • Charles,
      First, the photo your referring to making the rounds online may be “art” but it gives people false expectations. While you’ve obviously put a lot of thought into your interpretation, the bottom line is that this event is not rare. There are many three-planet alignments. Since no particular alignment is precisely the same as another, they’re all equally rare and unusual, which is another way of saying they’re common. Check out a nearly identical one of Mercury, Venus and Jupiter on and around August 28 this year at dawn. If I had the time, I could find many more in the past as well as the near future. Since the pyramids were built, there have been hundreds of 3-planet lineups at dusk, dawn and in the midnight sky. Many have been much more striking visually. Take a closer look at the spacing of the pyramids by the way – they’re not equidistant as you show the planets (correctly) to be. As for Dec. 21 and the vast amount of goofy, pseudoscientific speculation attributed to that particular calendar date, I’ll make a prediction: Dec. 21 will come and go just like today will, ie. the world won’t end.

      • It seems as if the point is the alignment in approximation with the pyramids makes the occurrence unique; not weather planetary alignments are rare. I may have overlooked it in your article and comments, but has anyone confirmed the time frame this kind of ‘alignment’ will take place over the pyramids again? Is it in fact appx. 2700 years or sooner?

        • C. ,
          The point I’m making is that very similar as well as visually more striking alignments over the pyramids happen routinely. All one need do is stand in the right place to see a particular lineup over the pyramids. I can do the exact same thing right here at home by walking to a spot where one or more planets align with a local landmark or landmarks. There is nothing paticularly unique about 3 rather widely-spaced planets angling over 3 landmarks of your choice. That said, it would have been nice to see the trio this morning from Giza.

  3. Hi bob so that video about the mayan guy talking about the 8 min of special orbs or enlightment and how scientists are trying to research it is fake?? And my coworker was saying a huge solar storm…can u actually see in advance if a solar storm has activity or what level of activity its at?

    • Leslie,
      I’m sure he’s a fine guy and maybe even believes what he’s talking about, but it’s a bunch of babble. Even solar scientists don’t know when a particular solar storm will happen. What astronomers CAN do is predict the likelihood of flares/storms based on where the sun is in its cycle and current trends of activity. No one can predict a solar storm on a particular day whether this weekend, next week and especially on Dec. 21.

  4. Thanks bob…im sure i will have other questions before the 21st but I will be writing u in cheer after the 21st!! Just like the whole comit eileen thing lol…asking you helps put things at ease a little more..so again thanks ur like my science psycologist lol

  5. Bob, I live on the east coast, what is the best time to get the best view the planets ? Looking forward to seeing it!
    Thanks, Malinda

    • Hi Malinda,
      The best time is about an hour before sunrise. Here in Duluth, Minn. that’s around 6:30 a.m. Check your sunrise time and plan accordingly. Make sure you find a spot with a wide open view to the southeast, so Mercury, the lowest planet, doesn’t get lost behind trees or buildings.

  6. will anyone be posting a picture of the planets allignment with the pyramids in it as well? If so where will I find this? (DEC3)

  7. To Brandi, I don’t know the answer to your question, but it will be all over the internet. I have a question and point to make. Dawn has already come and gone over in Egypt as compared to the U.S., so while we can see the alignment of the three stars/planets at dawn here, I’m surprised the pictures have not come up yet. GG

  8. UPDATE: I went outside, it’s 6 a.m. and cold, I’m in N.C. The moon is quite bright. So, I have a couple questions. I saw a gazillion stars, but the ones I think we’re talking about were beween the moon and horizon, but I could only see two, they were planets, one to the left of the moon and one to the right, but a bunch of trees blocked my view of the middle one, and I don’t know if there is a third one in the middle or not because I don’t know where the heck I’m looking! Maybe ya’ll can straighten me out!

    • Gigimac,
      The planets were far from the moon on the other side of the sky in the east. If you looked east and low, you would have seen one very bright object – that was Venus. Saturn was a little above Venus and to the right and Mercury down below Venus near the horizon.

    • Jessica,
      Officially, yes, it’s happened, but the alignment will be very, very similar tomorrow. If it’s clear and you’re interested, you’ll still get a good view.

  9. So im a tad confused. Was that line up supposed to do something?? Were people predicting something for it?? also a friend of mine was saying if u live in california and dont know how to swim we better learn fast. And saying something is coming or changing.,whats ur take with this?

    • Leslie,
      People predict many things – nearly all of them unfounded – when things line up. This alignment was simply there to be enjoyed for what it was. Don’t know much about California except it sounds expensive to live there.

  10. Lol yes i would agree living in california is expensive. I have family in brainard Minn. And Im sure what they pay for a nice house, I pay for in apartment lol. The california thing he was refering to was I guess cali getting messed up during the winter solstice i guess. and some planetary alignent on that day and some pole shift exageration. Just wondering if u had heard anything that was all :)

    • Leslie,
      I’ve heard all the usual talk about the Mayan calendar and end of the world, but nothing specific to California. I suspect the state will still be around after Dec. 21.

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