Jupiter & Saturn: A Grand Conjunction

   Where were you early in the morning on May 31st 2000? Did you notice two bright star-like objects and a thin waning crescent Moon low over the eastern horizon? As the graphic shows the planets Jupiter and Saturn were paired in a close conjunction. This, however is a special conjunction, one that only occurs about every 20 years between these two planets. This is known as a “Grand Conjunction”.

   And the next “Grand Conjunction” is this year, December 21st, where we will see the two planets low over the western horizon at sunset local time. If the weather or other circumstances keep this conjunction out of view just be patient, really patient.

   The next “Grand Conjunction” following this year is November 5th 2040.

   
   
   

Start a “Grand Conjunction” Watch
   Observe Jupiter and Saturn over the next two months as Jupiter catches up with Saturn. During a conjunction, the objects appear to be close physically, but the objects are just in the same direction in the sky. Lunar conjunctions with planets and some stars close to the ecliptic are relatively common however a conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn, called a ‘Great Conjunction’ only happens approximately every 19.86 years. The two planets follow a repeating pattern of within which constellation the conjunction happens. This year it is within Sagittarius the Archer, in 2041 it will be within Capricornus the Sea-Goat, and then in 2061-62 the Great Conjunction will be within Aries the Ram, which is the start of the repeating pattern.

   Animated graphics are set to 10-day intervals starting with October 22nd.


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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Saturn at 2020 Eastern Quadrature

   Sunday October 18th the position of the planet Saturn with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called eastern quadrature. Saturn is at a 90 degree angle from us as this graphic shows. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Saturn follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Saturn rises after the Sun and sets after the Sun.

   Where is Saturn now? Saturn is over the southern horizon at sunset and is about 6o east (to the left) from the planet Jupiter. Further east is the Dwarf Planet Ceres, then Neptune, and over the eastern horizon is the still brightly shining Mars.

   
   
   Learn a little (or a lot) more about Saturn by visiting the Cassini at Saturn mission web site. Click here to go to the Cassini Mission web site.

   This is a short 5 minute video I made as part of a live musical performance called “Orbit” that I was part of in May 2011. This is a piece from the much longer tour of the solar system performance and video and shows Saturn and some of its moons as viewed from the Cassini spacecraft that month.

   
   
   

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 – Venus Conjunction

   Wednesday morning October 14th in the hour or so before sunrise look eastward for the 26.8-day old thin waning crescent Moon and the inner planet Venus. Both are shining brightly with the Moon’s apparent brightness of -10.0 contrasting with the -4.0 apparent brightness of Venus.

   Both the Moon and Venus will just barely fit within the 7o field of view of binoculars with the Moon to be about 7-8o to the east, ‘below’ the inner planet Venus.


   
   
   
   
   
   
   Here is the waning crescent Moon and Venus this morning, Tuesday October 13th.

   
   
   
   
   

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 May Get Stung!

   Sunday morning October 11th the 23.6-day old waning crescent Moon will be about 2o from the open star cluster M-44, also known as the Beehive Cluster. This is a group of a few hundred stars located within the constellation Cancer the Crab.
click on graphic to see it larger
   Despite the large difference in apparent magnitude (Moon: -11.4 : Beehive Cluster: 3.4) The Beehive Cluster could still be visible with an optical aid or camera.

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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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Taurus Eyes the Moon!

   Late Tuesday evening October 6th the 20-day old waning gibbous Moon will be 4-5o from the reddish star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus the Bull.

   Aldebaran with its reddish color is known from mythology as the ‘angry eye‘ of the Bull. Aldebaran is also one of the two end stars in the v-shaped group of stars making up the face of the bull. This group of stars is an open star cluster, the Hyades, and is one two open star clusters easily seen with the unaided eye within the constellation. The tiny dipper-shaped Pleiades is the other open star cluster.

   
   
   

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 & Venus – Different Conjunctions, Together

   Friday October 2nd if you are a morning type look toward the eastern horizon before sunrise for the inner planet Venus to be about 1o from the ‘heart’ of Leo the Lion, the star Regulus. Look westward, you can’t miss it, for the the just past full Harvest Moon, the waning gibbous Moon, to be within 9o from the planet Mars as the two prepare to set a couple of hours after sunrise local time.

   If you can wait, later that day, watch for the Moon and Mars as they rise together a couple of hours after sunset and are separated by about 1o from one another.


   Keep on eye on the outer planets Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter being closer to the Sun than Saturn orbits more quickly and so it is steadily catching up with Saturn for a very close conjunction toward the end of December.

   
   
   

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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Saturn Corrects Its Reversal

   On Tuesday September 29th in a move that comes about annually, Saturn will once again reverse its direction from moving toward the west to moving toward the east.
   Since around May 11th Saturn has appeared to be moving westward (toward the right) rather then toward the east. This happens as the faster moving Earth catches up with and then passes by Saturn. This apparent westward motion of Saturn is known as retrograde motion and for Saturn it’s retrograde motion comes to an end during mid-September when Saturn resumes its normal orbital motion toward the east, or to the left as we view Saturn from the Earth.
   Since retrograde is a reference to motion and means backward or reverse motion, then the opposite of retrograde would be prograde motion. So it would be correct to describe Saturn as having resumed prograde motion. However you would probably get a blank look from those you say this to! So stick with “direct motion” or just say that Saturn orbits the Sun to the east as we see it from Earth.

   Saturn is located over the southern horizon after sunset local time. It is about 7-8o to the east from Jupiter.

   
   
   
   

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Moon – Jupiter & Saturn Conjunctions

   The waxing gibbous Moon, over the next two evenings (September 24th and 25th, will pass by two of the giant outer planets. The Moon will pass within about 2-3o from Jupiter and about 1-2o from Saturn.
   Off toward the eastern horizon is the innermost planet Mercury and the bluish-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden.


   
   
   

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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Mercury- Spica & Moon – Antares

   Tuesday September 22nd shortly after sunset local time look toward the western horizon for the innermost planet Mercury to be about 1o from the bluish-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. The two should make for an interesting comparison in apparent magnitudes with Spica at 0.96 and Mercury with a -0.01 apparent magnitude.
   The nearly first quarter but still waxing crescent Moon will be about 7-8o from the reddish star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion. Both are positioned over the southern horizon.

   
   
   

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-Venus Conjunction + M44

   Monday morning September 14th look eastward in the pre-dawn skies for the 26-day old waning crescent Moon to be about 4-5o from the planet Venus and about the same distance from the open star cluster M-44, the Beehive Custer.

   The trio should make for an interesting view with binoculars.
   
   
   
   
   
   

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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