Scientists Say You Can’t See Planets With The Naked Eye, But I Know What I Saw

Flickr / Hubble Heritage
Flickr / Hubble Heritage

Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: Can anyone share something that has happened to them that they can’t explain? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.


When I was 10-years-old or so, I looked up in the sky early one morning and saw the planet Saturn…rings and all. And if that weren’t enough, I also saw another, much smaller planet, just below Saturn and to the side.

I was born in 1955, so this occurred around the year 1965. It was a hot July or August night, so I slept outside in a bed our mother had made for such occasions. We lived in Provo, Utah which is unique in that it has an enormously tall mountain range towering over it just to its east. They say the sun doesn’t rise till 11:00 a.m. there, but that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration.

I woke up early,  ome time after the stars had disappeared, but long before the sun would rise over the mountains. I suppose around 5:30. The moon had not faded yet. I saw the two planets roughly 10 degrees over the mountain tops. I was very surprised because I’d never been told that you could see planets with the naked eye. (At the time, I didn’t even know that some of the “stars” we see in the sky are really planets.)

I’d say that the size of Saturn, as I saw it, was roughly a tenth the size of the moon, and the other planet about a fifth the size of Saturn. The color of both was the same as the moon. The rings, as a group, were clearly visible.

I was very excited by what I’d seen and talked my sister into spending the following night out with me so she could see the same. Sadly, the planets didn’t appear the following morning.

For decades following the experience, I just assumed that planets could be seen but only under certain circumstances. In the late 1990s I was browsing the web and I remembered what I’d seen. I did several searches to find out what is required to see planets with the naked eye. I was surprised to discover that it’s impossible to see planets with the naked eye, under any circumstances. At least so say the experts.

But I knew what I saw. The two planets faded precisely the way the moon did as the morning progressed. Those weren’t weather balloons I’d seen, as some friends have suggested.

I’ve always been a believer in and a fan of science. (I was a precocious kid, having designed and built a transistor radio at the age of eight, for example. I would later become an electrical engineer.) So I knew there had to be a logical explanation, one that physicists simply hadn’t witnessed or thought of themselves. I hypothesized that what I witnessed was perhaps due to some kind of celestial confluence or alignment which, through diffraction, resulted in an optical  magnification of the planets.

About a year ago, I did another online search looking for others who had seen what I’d seen. This time I actually did find posts from a couple of guys who claimed also to have seen Saturn with their naked eyes as children. (Though no mention of the smaller planet.) They are both roughly my age, so they may have witnessed the same event. Indeed, the event may have been witnessed by many.

I’d like to know if those two gentlemen also lived in the Provo area as kids. Or if their towns also have large mountains to the east. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

This answer originally appeared at Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and get insider knowledge.

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