Perhaps you missed it. Astronomers tell us Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter were all visibly lined up before dawn Wednesday. You’ve still got time to see this spectacle. The planets will stay that way until late February. You need a clear sky and the fortitude to step outside about 45 minutes before dawn.
I’ve always admired the intellectual power that, accumulated over centuries, has given humanity the large body of knowledge it has about celestial bodies. I mean, who figured out the orbit of Jupiter? The late author Barbara Tuchman, inA Distant Mirror, her 1978 account of the 14th century, noted this, among the “mental furniture” of the average person in the 1300s: knowledge that the earth orbited the sun. Maybe they didn’t state it out loud, given the prevailing doctrine of the time.
I interviewed someone of this century who studies the skies for a highly practical purpose. Lindley Johnson is with the Planetary Defense Office at NASA. He oversees the operation at NASA that tries to identify asteroids that could collide with Earth. The agency just completed a consolidation of several related activities to form the Planetary Defense Coordination Office.