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Five Bright Planets Mark Out Sun's Path

(January 29, 2016)

The term "ecliptic" refers to the path the Sun takes with respect to the background stars, with the Sun completing one trip around the sky every year. The Sun moves Eastward about one degree (twice the Full Moon's diameter) each day, always moving through the same twelve constellations (those we call the "Zodiac").

We realized long ago that the Sun's annual motion among the stars is actually an illusion, caused by the Earth's orbital motion about the Sun. Only astronauts and those in the path of a total solar eclipse get to see the Sun and stars at the same time. So in general, we have to imagine the Sun moving along its path with respect to the stars.

But there's an easy way for you to visualize the ecliptic path.

This February, the five brightest planets and the Moon will all be visible at the same time and nicely spaced out all along the ecliptic! This is in the morning sky, best viewed at around 6:30 am. If you go out earlier, Mercury and Venus may still be below the horizon; and by 7 am, the sky will have become too bright to see most of the planets.

The animation shown above will help you to find each of the planets. Use the Moon to guide you from night to night as it passes each of the planets in turn. And in particular, the morning of Saturday Feb.6 will be an excellent opportunity (if clear) to find the elusive planet Mercury, as the crescent Moon and brilliant Venus will show you where to look.

This is also an excellent opportunity to try photographing the trio. Almost any camera will work. Details and recommendations are given in the illustration below.

Wishing everyone clear AND DARK skies,

--Ian Shelton, DDOD Chair

The David Dunlap Observatory lies nestled in the heart of Richmond Hill, Ontario, a city of 200,000 just north of Canada's largest city, Toronto. The 190-acre oasis of mature forests, pastures and springs is home to two distinct deer herds and an abundance of other wildlife, including a coyote pack, foxes, voles, rabbits, honey bees, many species of butterflies, and birds including hawks, owls, doves, crows and songbirds. The property represents the last and largest urban open green space in southern Richmond Hill.


Originally deeded to the University of Toronto by the philanthropist Jessie Donalda Dunlap in memory of her husband David, the Dunlap Observatory opened on May 31st, 1935. Its magnificent 74-inch telescope was the second largest in the world at that time and has been used through seven decades to conduct much groundbreaking research, including the discovery of the first known black hole, Cygnus X-1.

In 2007, the University of Toronto wrested control of the land from Jessie Dunlap's heirs through a protracted legal case spanning 4 years. They then broke the public covenant that the land would remain a park and a research and outreach centre in perpetuity by selling the property to a developer intent on replacing most of the greenspace with hundreds of houses.

The DDO Defenders have been working hard to represent the public and inform all levels of government about what will be lost if the developer is allowed to proceed.


On April 12th, 2012, after six long and anxiety-ridden months of Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) mandated mediation following a four year hard-fought and very public battle, an agreement was reached in March between the mediation parties to the David Dunlap Observatory Lands OMB case.

Minutes of Settlement were drawn up for signing by all parties to the mediation -- the landowner, Corsica Development Inc. (a subsidiary of MetrusDevelopments Inc.), the Town of Richmond Hill, the Region of York, the Toronto and Area Conservation Authority (TRCA), and the David Dunlap Observatory Defenders (DDO Defenders) Inc. This historic document was ratified by Richmond Hill Town Council on Thursday, April 12th. All mediation parties had been sworn to absolute secrecy under a strict gag order until Council signed off on the agreement, but now the silence has finally been broken and the details of the settlement agreement can be made public. (read more)

For further information or to offer support, please contact:

Ian Shelton - Chair, DDO Defenders Inc.
sn87a@hotmail.com or (905) 762-0072

The Minutes of Settlement is posted at the Town of Richmond Hill - DDO webpage.


Please support our Community Advocacy

The DDO Defenders are deeply committed to preserving the David Dunlap Observatory, surrounding Lands and the Dunlap Legacy. Our mandate is to ensure that the campus continues to operate as a world-class astronomical and astrophysical research facility and a centre of excellence in public Outreach, Education and Experiential Learning regarding all aspects of Science and the Natural World.

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Please make your cheque or money order payable to "DDO Defenders" and send it to:

DDO Defenders
240 Bantry Avenue
Richmond Hill, ON
Canada L4B 4H9.

Donating by Phone

Call us at (905) 762-0072