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Roy Gillett, President of the Astrological Society
"The issue of Rover has been boiling on through the whole period that Mars was in Taurus"
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Robert Massey, astronomer, Greenwich Observatory
"The very idea that you can predict events...using the planets is really very, very discredited"
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Dr David Whitehouse
"There is no evidence to support this nonsense"
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Wednesday, 3 May, 2000, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
Cosmic alignment heralds no disaster
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The planets are coming together for an unusual alignment in the next few days.

Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will all form a rough line stretching away from the far side of the Sun.

It is an event that has astrologers dizzy in anticipation. They are not quite proclaiming the end of the world but in tabloid newspapers and all over the internet they have given out warnings that the cosmic conjunction will have dire consequences.

Serious scientists say it is a curiosity that will have no effect whatsoever.

But the media has been gripped by the words from astrologers who claim the alignment will cause our Sun to misbehave and eject electrically charged gas that will disrupt the Earth. The combined gravitational pull of the planets in this celestial line-up could also have effects on the Earth, they argue.

Circulation figures

In reality, nothing will happen at all. There will be no discernible effect on our planet except perhaps for a rise in the circulation figures of certain newspapers.

The main alignment, which includes the Moon, will take place around 08:08 GMT (09:08 BST) on Friday, 5 May. They will come within 26 degrees of each other. On Wednesday, 17 May, there will be an even tighter line-up, but this excludes the Moon.

Such comings together are uncommon events but not all that rare. The 1962 grouping was even closer than this week's, for example.

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (Soho), positioned 1.5m kilometres out from Earth, took this image of the Sun's outer atmosphere in visible light as part of its monitoring of solar activity. The large white spots seen in the image are (from left to right) Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury coming together for the predicted alignment. The horizontal streaks on the planets are just instrumental effects.

But such detail seems to have been lost on one of the UK's most popular astrologers. Jonathan Cainer warns his readers to prepare for the worst.

"There is serious suggestion that this event could exert a gravitational pull strong enough to spark a grave environmental crisis," he writes in The Express newspaper. "The Earth's point of balance is notoriously delicate. It could only take a tiny extra tug on the cosmic cord to set us spinning in a slightly different way," he asserts.

This is all nonsense. There is no serious suggestion that the planets' combined pull of gravity will have any effect at all.

Football gravity

It is true that the Moon and the Sun's gravity affect the Earth causing our tides to rise and fall. The Moon, being closer, has twice the effect of the Sun.

But the gravitational effect of the other planets is negligible. In fact, the gravitational pull of a football held at arms length has more effect than the pull of the distant planet Mars.

In addition, it is not true that the "Earth's point of balance" is notoriously delicate. Our Moon has a great stabilising influence on the Earth's orientation in space.

Once again, the astrologers have made themselves look silly. And so have those who should know better like the syndicate of Lloyd's underwriters which formed a study group to investigate claims of catastrophes around 5 May, 2000. They were wasting their time.

Sadly, if you wish to view the cosmic line-up you will find it difficult as the Sun will be in the way.

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