Venus and the Sisters

   This week will be one of those weeks of planet viewing that will be remembered. The early morning skies have 4 of the visible planets arranged along the ecliptic over the eastern to southern horizon. In the evening skies there is the inner planet Venus moving eastward away from the Sun and rapidly, at least in terms of orbital speed, toward the open star cluster the Pleiades. This is a group of several hundred stars bound together by their respective gravitational attraction, and is located on the shoulder of Taurus the Bull.
   Venus, as a planet closer to the Sun than the Earth, will move more each day than the apparent speed of the Sun, which is based on the Earth’s orbital speed of about 0.98o each day. Venus being closer to the Sun will move approximately 1.6o each day.
   So over the course of 2-3 days the planet Venus will move across the stars of the Pleiades as this animated graphic is showing. It is set for 1-day intervals from April 2nd to the 5th. As Venus moves across the stars it will make for a great view either through binoculars or telescope.


   
   
   

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Planets on the Move

   Sometimes there are opportunities to observe the visible planets as they move along their respective orbital paths. Right now is one of those times when there are visible planets in both the evening and morning skies. And they are arranged such that you are able to see, not directly, but over a day at a time you are able to observe how planets closer to the Earth or Sun move relative to planets further away.
   The inner planet Venus, by itself in the evening skies, will pass across the stars of the Pleiades as this animated graphic shows. It is set at 1-day intervals and goes from April 2nd-5th.
   In the morning skies you will find three planets, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter close together over the southeastern horizon before the Sun rises. Keep an eye on Mars as it moves past the slower moving Saturn.
   Shortly before sunrise the innermost planet, Mercury, rises and will also be visible as this graphic set for March 31st shows.


   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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Let the Triangle Point the Way

   In the morning skies, before sunrise local time, look toward the southeastern horizon for Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn to be arranged along the ecliptic in a grouping that starting with today will fit within the field of view of binoculars. If your skies are dark enough you may notice 3 bright stars arranged in a large triangle above the three planets. The stars, Vega, Deneb, and Altair, each from a different constellation, form the asterism known as the Summer Triangle.
   Over the next several days, into next month, Mars will steadily close in on Saturn for a nice close conjunction of about 1o on Tuesday March 31st.
   Further east, and lower, is the Dwarf Planet Ceres, and the innermost planet Mercury.

   And don’t forget – in the evening skies for the next several days the planet Venus will be closing in on the open star cluster, the Pleiades. This animated graphic is set for 1-day intervals from April 2nd-5th.
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
The morning planets

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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March Moon at Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), for this orbit, on Tuesday March 24th. At that time the new Moon will be at a distance of 31.88 Earth diameters 252,712 miles (406,700 km) from the Earth.

   This is the greatest apogee distance, and smallest appearing (if you could see it) for our Moon this year. In other words this new Moon is a ‘Super-Mini Moon’!

   On the day of the apogee Moon the Moon is at new Moon phase so it rises with the Sun and sets with the Sun. Start watching for the waxing crescent Moon in the evening skies at sunset in a day or so.

   However there are four of the six naked-eye visible planets over the east-southeastern horizon before the Sun and new Moon rise.

   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*

   *Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to go to bobs-spaces.


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Solar Opposites

   Inner planets like all the planets as viewed from Earth appear to be moving from one side of the Sun to the other. As a result the visible planets are seen either in the morning skies when located west from the Sun and rising before the Sun rises, or in the evening skies east from the Sun, and setting after the Sun sets. For the two inner planets, Mercury and Venus, these positions on either side of the Sun are known as elongations – western or greatest western elongation and its counterpart, eastern or greatest eastern elongation.
   As the graphics below show, both inner planets reach their respective elongations – but on opposite sides of the sun. Monday March 23rd Mercury is at western elongation in the morning skies, and on Tuesday March 24th Venus will be at eastern elongation in the evening skies.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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Moon – Mercury Conjunction

   Saturday morning March 21st the thin 27-day old waning crescent Moon will be about 7o from the innermost planet Mercury as the two rise about an hour before the Sun rises. Should make for a great view in the field of view of binoculars.
   Still adding to the morning planet viewing are the outer planets Saturn, and the close conjunctions between Mars and Jupiter.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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Mars-Jupiter Close Conjunction

   Friday morning March 20th the 26-day old waning crescent Moon will be near the Dwarf Planet Ceres. However the close conjunction (1-2o) between Mars and Jupiter should be an especially good view through the eyepiece of binoculars or the eyepiece of a telescope.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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