"Tomb Raider" flubs planet alignment
Q: My sister and I were watching the movie "Tomb Raider" and we were wondering if it is true or
possible that all the planets can be perfectly aligned as shown in the movie? -Roberto M.
A: All the planets can align but not the way the movie showed it: perfectly in a row (at least not within the life
of the solar system).
[John Mosley, Griffith Observatory] May 5, 2000 alignment. The planets from bottom to top: Earth, Sun,
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn
In an early scene, we see the actress, Angelina Jolie, semi reclining while looking through a telescope at the
developing alignment. She sees the planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto beginning to align. It's highly unlikely
to happen that way-ever--because our planets orbit the Sun in different planes. Each orbit is tilted off from the
others and Pluto is tilted a whopping 17 degrees.
In 1952 BC, probably the closest alignment on record, involved the six planets Mercury through Saturn. Then,
seen from Earth, they were all within a circle that was about six times wider than the Full Moon. Something,
surely, to marvel at but not the perfect geometry of the movie. Angelina could never fit that circle of planets
within her field of view in the telescope, not to mention the rest of them: Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
Our figure depicts the most recent planetary conjunction, occurring on May 5, 2000 as seen from above the
Sun's North Pole. It's sort of in a line but not perfectly.
The probability of all nine planets and the Moon aligning perfectly is 1 in 86 billion-trillion-trillion-trillion years. Our solar system has
only been around for 4.6 billion years and its total life is only 10 billion years. The chances are: it won't happen during the lifetime of our
Moon, Sun, and planets.
(Answered by April Holladay, science correspondent, February 20, 2002)
Bad Astronomy: Tomb Raider
East Tennessee State U: Probability of perfect alignment
Griffith Observatory: Planetary Alignments
Bad Astronomy: Conjunction
Oklahoma School of Science and Math: Conjunctions