Baguio offers view of rare planetary alignment

SKY SHOW | The rare five-planet alignment as seen from the Mirador Jesuit Villa Retreat House in Baguio City at dawn on Monday, June 20, 2022. (Photo by NOLI C. GABILO / Contributo)

BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — An old weather observatory, built by the Jesuits in the early 1900s, has been offering the best view of a rare alignment of the “naked eye planets” — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn — which can be seen on a clear night without using a powerful telescope or a pair of binoculars.

Already a tourist destination since the 1960s because of the 252 steps leading to the Lourdes Grotto, the old Mirador Observatory at Mirador Heritage and Eco-Spirituality Park has been providing a clear, unfiltered skyscape for people observing the phenomenon, which is visible to the eye.

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Professional photographer Noli Gabilo has captured images of the five-planet alignment from what had been described in 1909 as a “meteorological, geodynamic station of the weather bureau” in a report written by Rev. Jose Algue, who headed that agency during the American colonial government.

Gabilo’s Wednesday images showed the moon joining the planetary configuration for the first time. This phenomenon was last seen in 2004 and will occur again in 2040.

Wide view

According to astronomy websites, like BBC’s Science Focus and science news sites like space.com, the unusually bright parade of planets will appear according to the order of their current orbit around the sun.

That means Baguio residents awake from 3 a.m. to past 4 a.m. on Wednesday were able to see Mercury before moving up the chain to Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Gabilo said he had asked park attendants to switch off the streetlights there to minimize light flares when he took the latest photograph at 4:26 a.m.

He took the photographs at an elevation of 1,520 meters above sea level. Most parts of the summer capital provide a wide view of the night sky, as long as no storms blow through the city this week. Baguio, known for its afternoon rains, has had sporadic thunderstorms for the past few days.

Gabilo said he first took photographs of the alignment on June 18 in Balbalan town, Kalinga province.

The phenomenon is expected to last until the end of June, but the best view of the alignment is projected to take place on June 24 and June 25, when all five planets will stretch out into a wide arch.

Village officials are bracing once again for weekend gridlock because more people may be interested in the dazzling night show.

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Since Baguio reopened to tourists during the Christmas season last year, hundreds have been visiting the grotto in vans and cars. The surge frequently results in vehicle congestion from Friday to Sunday, said Brenda Ting, secretary of Barangay Dominican Mirador, on Wednesday.

The barangay council is working on a mechanism to regulate tourist flow to Mirador Park and the Lourdes Grotto.