Mars at Eastern Quadrature

orbital-positions   Monday February 1st the position of the planet Mars, with respect to the Earth and the Sun, places this planet at what is called eastern quadrature. At that orbital position Mars, and actually any outer planet, is at a 90 degree angle from the Earth as this graphic shows, and the banner graphic at the top of the page shows. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions of Earth, Sun, and Mars.

   At this position Mars follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Mars rises after the Sun and then sets after the Sun. Mars, with an apparent magnitude of 0.45, is about 5o from the 5.8 magnitude Uranus.

   
   
   

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The Twins Point the Way

   Wednesday evening January 27th the nearly full Moon, a 14-day old waxing gibbous Moon, will be about 6-7o from the star Pollux, one of the two twin stars of Gemini the Twins. The other ‘twin star’, the other brother, is Castor.

   Off to the west over the southern horizon are the planet Mars and Uranus. Further west is Neptune, and the Dwarf Planets Eris and Ceres. Earlier in the evening, after sunset local time the innermost planet Mercury is over the western horizon.

   
   
   

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Uranus at Eastern Quadrature – 2021

   Tuesday January 26th the position of the planet Uranus with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called eastern quadrature. Uranus is at a 90 degree angle from the Earth. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions of the Earth, the Sun, and Uranus – or any outer planet. At this position Uranus follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Uranus rises after the Sun and sets after the Sun.

   So, where is Uranus? Look over the southern horizon after sunset for the reddish star-like object – the planet Mars. A few degrees above Mars is the star Hamal in the constellation of Aries the Ram. About 4o down to the right from Mars is the outer ringed planet Uranus.

   With a 5.77 apparent magnitude Uranus is just bright enough to be seen with binoculars as perhaps a very small dot. However Uranus is at about the naked-eye limit of visibility (6th magnitude) so it would take extremely dark skies to see it without optical assistance. Compare the apparent magnitude of Uranus with that of Mars at 0.34 and the 2.00 apparent magnitude for the star Hamal.

   
   
   

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The Inner and Outer Solar System

   Friday evening January 31st there is an opportunity to see or at least visualize the inner and outer areas of our solar system. About an hour or so after local sunset look toward the western horizon for the brightly shining inner planet Venus with a -4.0 apparent magnitude. Nearby, about 5o west from Venus, is the outermost of the 8 planets, Neptune. However with an apparent magnitude of 7.94 Neptune would only be visible with an optical aid – the larger the better.
   Look further east and higher for the 7-day old waxing crescent Moon to be between the outer planet Uranus and the Dwarf Planet Eris. About 9o below the Moon is the Dwarf Planet Eris with an apparent magnitude of 18.60 – definitely not naked-eye visible. Above the Moon by about 5o is the outer planet Uranus, just barely visible to the naked-eye with an apparent magnitude of 5.80.

   
   
   

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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They’re There!


   Tuesday morning, May 23rd the thin 26.7-day old waning crescent Moon will be surrounded by planets, most of which will be difficult to see given the time of day and how faint each one is. Except for Venus.

   
   
   

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.

A Planet Buffet

   Friday night December 9th offers up a planet buffet featuring eight planets above the horizon and one under your feet. As this graphic shows one of the outermost of the 8 planets, Uranus, is above the eastern horizon as are two Dwarf Planets, Ceres and Eris, and the waxing gibbous Moon. Further west over the southern horizon is the outermost of the 8 planets, Neptune, and over the southwest horizon are Mars, Venus, Pluto, and Mercury. And under your feet? Look down to see the Earth – can’t miss it!
   Ceres is the closest Dwarf Planet to us as it is within the main asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. The other Dwarf Planet is Eris which at 96 AU is located much further than Ceres (2.2 AU) and Uranus (19.4 AU) and Neptune (30 AU).

   
   
   

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.

A Celestial 3fer!

   Saturday February 21st is one of those days (actually nights) when things come together nicely and we have an evening where there will be a trio of celestial events two of which many people will hopefully notice. The very bright Venus will be very close to the much dimmer planet Mars over the western horizon at the time of your local sunset. Up to the left is the waxing crescent Moon and less than 1o from the Moon is the outer planet Uranus.

uranus-occultation   For parts of the world this will be an occultation of Uranus by the Moon. From the U.S.A. the occultation occurs during the late afternoon and so the sky may be too bright to see the occultation. And unfortunately Uranus is at the threshold of what is bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, so Uranus is too dim to be visible without the use of binoculars or telescope.

   Both of these conjunctions should be an interesting sight through binoculars or a telescope eyepiece. In particular the conjunction between Venus and Mars is one that spans several days, with the closest happening on Sunday the 22nd. You can see the two move relative to each other over the course of a few days, as this animated graphic shows. It is set to one frame per day and starts from the 19th and ends on the 25th. This animated graphic also gives an idea of how the two planets, Venus and Mars, would look through binoculars and an 8″ reflecting telescope with a 25 mm eyepiece. With the greater telescope eyepiece magnification Uranus and some of its moons become visible, as will possibly be a gibbous phase shape for Venus, and maybe a snow covered Martian pole.

   The 3rd of the 3fer
feb21-descending-node   Saturday February 21st at 16:06 UT (12:06 pm CST) our Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.

   
   
   
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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.