This is a great time to see several planets

tree_oracle(z6b MA)February 25, 2012

For you amateur astronomers out there, this is a great week to see several planets.

At dusk, the planet Venus is right next to the crescent moon. A little higher in the sky is Jupiter. Venus is the brighter of the two but both planets really stick out against the dark blue sky. If you have a pair of binoculars, you can easily see Jupiter's four largest moons.

If you draw a line between the two planets that just barely touches each planet and follow that line to the horizon, then those of you with a view of the western horizon can catch a rare view of Mercury. As the sun just sets, you can find Mercury by holding your fist at arm's length with the bottom of your fist on the Western horizon. Mercury should be roughly a little higher than the top of your fist on the line that I described earlier from the other planets. You only have a 30 - 45 minute window or so to see it. You also only have a couple of more weeks to see it. Mercury goes through phases like our moon and right now it's in the "full moon" phase so it is at its brightest. It is also as far away from the sun as possible when viewed from Earth which is why it is so easy to see. It's normally so close to the sun that it gets lost in the light of the sunset especially when it's in a crescent phase.

As I right this, Mars is readily apparent in the high Southeastern sky . It has a red hue that really sticks out from the rest of the sky other than the red giant star Betelgeuse that is part of the Orion constellation.

So without much effort, you can readily see four of the five planets that can be seen with the naked eye. Saturn is the fifth and it can be readily seen in the Southern sky in another month or so.

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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

SpaceWeather.com has some nice photos and a discussion of the various night sights and NASA Science News sent out a news release with a nice video: Cold and Spellbinding: An Alignment of Planets in the Sunset Sky.

I often check the SpaceWeather.com to see what's up (pun intended), although I'm usually more interested in space weather storms and auroras.

Claire

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 10:33AM
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spedigrees z4VT

That Crescent moon and the two super bright planets nearest to it in my view of the sky make a pretty picture. I've been awake and outdoors at all hours of the night this past week with the new puppy, so the celestial imagery is a nice distraction from how exhausted and cold I am in the wee hours.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 2:32PM
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spedigrees z4VT

I'll have to take the binoculars with me tonight to see if I can spot Jupiter's moons. Thanks for the tip.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 2:36PM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

This past weekend I saw Saturn, too. Unless you have a good view of the eastern horizon, you have to wait until 11:00 pm or so to see it. It's in the southeastern sky around 30 - 40 degrees up from the horizon (around 3-4 fists on top of each other at arm's length). There are two bright objects in that area of sky. Saturn is the one on the left. It has a yellow hue to it while the star to the right of it looks more white or bluish-white. I could actually make out the rings in my binoculars (Celestron 25 x 70 mm). You need a telescope for a really good view of the rings. Saturn is not as bright to the naked eye as the other planets. It's also not as bright as the brightest stars but it's still bright enough to stick out in the sky. I find that simply amazing given how far away it is. It give you an idea of how big it is.

Mars is really obvious in the eastern sky around 8:00 - 9:00 pm. It's really bright and the orange-red color is very distinct from anything around it. It can be seen all night.

From charts that I've seen, Uranus and Neptune should be at their optimal viewing point this year in the Fall. Both of them look like very blue stars through binoculars or a telescope.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 5:45PM
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