Moon, Mars, and Antares

   Monday morning January 20th, as they all rise together, the 25-day old waning crescent Moon will be within 5o from the planet ‘red planet’ Mars and the red star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion.

   
   
   

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Mars on the Move

   Friday morning January 17th, before sunrise, the last quarter Moon will be about 5-6o from the blue-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. However the celestial highlight coming up is further east or lower and closer to the eastern horizon where there are two reddish-colored objects of about the same apparent brightness or magnitude. One object is the planet Mars and the other is the star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion.

click on animated graphic to see it larger

Mars passing Antares – January 17-23 – 6 am CST

   Watch over the next several mornings and you will be able to determine which one is Mars and which is Antares as one of them moves past the other – as this animated graphic is showing. Also, relative to Mars and Antares the Moon is waning in phase as it zips past the two.

   There is an interesting connection between the star Antares and the planet Mars, based on their similar reddish color. There are times like this year when the two are close and part of the mythology surrounding the two suggests that the star was given its name so as to not confuse it with the planet Mars. The name Antares comes from the Greek word translated to ‘Rival of Mars’.

   Whenever that was historically Mars was probably known as one of the ‘wandering stars’ from the Greek word ‘planetai’. So with its reddish color, like blood, this ‘wandering star’ came to represent Mars, the ‘G-d of War’. Antares, on the other hand is a red supergiant star with a diameter estimated to be such that if it were at the center of our solar system Antares would fill the solar system out to around the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

   
   
   

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Mornings Have Hang Ups!

   Northern Hemisphere winter in addition to chilly or cold mornings may sort of warm you, at least in your mind. If you are outside looking at the sky, over the eastern horizon is a large triangular shape of three bright stars. One star each from three different constellations. Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, Vega in Lyra the Harp, and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. This is the asterism (star pattern but not a constellation) the Summer Triangle. There, warmer now?!
   So if you are outside checking out the Summer Triangle, or perhaps Mars and nearby Antares and you have an optical aid like binoculars or a lower power wide-field eyepiece in your telescope aim them and your eyes toward the star Altair. In dark enough skies you can make out the stars making up Sagitta the Arrow a few degrees away from Altair.
   As Altair is rising and with binoculars move the field of view up to the left until the stars of Sagitta fill the field of view. This small constellation, yes a constellation, could be used as a sort of pointer stars to look a few degrees away for a small open star cluster, Brocchi’s Cluster, or more commonly known as the ‘Coathanger Cluster’.
   So if mornings with stars like this don’t warm you up then wait a few months of Earth revolution and these same stars will be showing up in the warmer evening skies of Northern Hemisphere summer and fall.

   
   
   

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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Waning Crescent Moon Near Mars

   Monday morning before the Sun rises the 27-day old Moon waning crescent Moon will be about 4-5o from the ‘Red Planet’ Mars. Both will be over the southeastern horizon rising at least 2-3 hours ahead of the Sun.

   
   
   

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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December Moon at Perigee

   Our Moon reaches perigee, (closest distance to Earth), for this orbit, on Wednesday December 18th. At that time the Moon will be at a distance of 26.025 Earth diameters, 230,069 miles (370,260 km) from the Earth.

   On the day of the perigee Moon the 22-day old waning gibbous Moon will be over the south-southwestern horizon at sunrise local time. The planet Mars is also visible over the southeastern horizon. If your local eastern horizon is low enough then the innermost planet, Mercury, might be seen near the reddish star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion.

   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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Venus – Antares Conjunction

   Friday evening November 8th the inner planet Venus will be about 4-5o from the reddish star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion. Both will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars. Along with Venus there are several planets visible as this graphic shows.

   
   
   

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Visualize the Ecliptic

Above the Terrestrial Planets this Month

   Once in a while the planets are arranged such that they are spread across the sky. The planets are not lined up in a straight line outward from the Sun but rather are arranged along the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the Earth’s orbital path around the Sun and the respective orbit of each planet is inclined from the ecliptic. And this is one of those times when it is easier to visualize the ecliptic. (see graphics below) Click here to read a previous posting about the ecliptic and planet inclination.

   As the animated graphic is showing the terrestrial planets are not arranged in a straight line. This graphic shows the solar system out to Neptune and from this perspective the planets are obviously not in a straight line.


   
   
   

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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