No, the planets of the solar system are not aligned at the solstice on December 21, 2012.
The diagram below shows the positions of all the solar system planets (and the dwarf planet Pluto) at the instant of the December 2012 solstice (2012 December 21 at 11:12 UTC).
Positions of the planets on December 21, 2012
Look for yourself. Do these scattered planets look aligned to you? If you squint, I suppose you could say the planets Jupiter, Earth and Venus appear aligned in space. However, such an “alignment” is not rare. If you could somehow reside above the solar system, and continually watch the planets move in space over years or millenia, you’d find that the planets make all sorts of patterns with respect to each other, endlessly, as they orbit the sun. How could it be otherwise?
By the way, the above diagram shows the planetary positions from the direction north of the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane. As seen from the north of the ecliptic, the planets go counter-clockwise around the sun. The planets circle the sun on nearly – but not exactly – the same plane that Earth does. The portion of the planetary orbit highlighted in blue lies north of (above) the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane – while that highlighted in green resides south of the ecliptic.
Perhaps you’ve seen images such as the one below. We used this image ourselves on our December 1 night sky post, in which we spoke of all the solar system planets being visible in December.
This portrayal of the solar system gives the relative sizes of the sun and planets, and the order of the planets (and dwarf planets) going outward from the sun. But this illustration is not dated December 21, 2012. It has no date at all. It does not show the relative distances of the planets, or their positions relative to the plane of the solar system, or their locations in orbit on December 21, 2012 or any other day. In short, this illustration does not show the planets lining up on December 21, 2012.
The so-called planetary alignment associated with December 2012 solstice is only one of numerous fraudulent claims made by pseudoscientific doomsday prognosticators. Our advice is to celebrate the solstice as our ancestors have done since time immemorial and to enjoy New Year’s celebrations! We’ll see you in 2013.
Bottom line: The planets of our solar system are not aligned on December 21, 2012. This post contains a diagram showing the positions of the planets at the 2012 northern winter solstice.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.