Mercury at Inferior Conjunction

   Wednesday July 1st the innermost planet Mercury reaches inferior conjunction. At inferior conjunction Mercury will move between the Earth and the Sun – much like the position of the Moon at new phase. The graphic to the right shows the planet positions relative to the Earth and Sun for both inner planets and outer planets.

   At this inferior conjunction Mercury will not be directly in line with the Earth and the Sun – on the ecliptic. Mercury has an orbital inclination of 7o with respect to the ecliptic. So like our Moon, Mercury during each complete orbit, will cross the plane of the ecliptic moving north (ascending node) and also moving south (descending node). For this inferior conjunction Mercury will be south of the ecliptic, by about 5.47o.

   
   
   

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Thin Moon on the Move

   Sunday June 21st, on the other side of the Earth from the U.S.A., the new Moon will be passing between the Earth and the Sun giving that side of the world an annular solar eclipse.
   About 1/2-day later the just past new Moon, an 0.80-day young thin waxing crescent Moon may be seen just above the western horizon at sunset local time. If you see the Moon look closely for a star-like object just to the left from the Moon. This is the inner planet Mercury.
   If you miss the Moon and Mercury on Sunday evening wait until Monday evening June 22nd to see the still thin 1.85-days old waxing crescent Moon near one of the Gemini ‘Twin’ stars, Pollux.
   Not had enough? On Tuesday June 23rd the 2.80-days young waxing crescent Moon will be near M44, the Beehive Cluster.
   Any of these conjunctions will look great in binoculars.

   
   
   

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Mercury at Eastern Elongation

orbital-positions    On Thursday June 4th Mercury, the innermost planet, will reach its orbital position known as greatest eastern elongation. At that moment Mercury, the Sun, and the Earth, would be arranged in something close to approximating a right angle as this graphic shows.
   From our perspective the orbits of Mercury and Venus appear to move from one side of the Sun to the other – from superior conjunction, behind the Sun, out to the left (east) from the Sun to eastern elongation, then reverse and move westward through (inferior conjunction) between the Earth and the Sun to western elongation. From there the inner planet moves eastward going behind the Sun (superior conjunction) and eventually reappearing on the eastern side of the Sun for an eastern elongation. Repeat over and over – do not stop!

   The planet Mercury is currently over the western horizon at sunset local time and will remain visible for most of the month.

   
   
   

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Moon on the Move

   Over the next several days the Moon, as it waxes toward first quarter, will be moving toward the east and as it does the Moon will pass by several of the brighter stars along the Moon’s orbital path. This will take the Moon near Pollux, one of the Gemini ‘Twins’, and then past Regulus, the ‘Heart’ of Leo the Lion. On the 27th you may be able to see the open star cluster, M-44, or also known as the Beehive Cluster.



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Thin Waxing Crescent Moon Near Venus – Mercury

   Saturday evening May 23rd look toward the western horizon for the very thin young 1.3-day old waxing crescent Moon. The Moon will be about 3-4o from the inner planet Venus and about 5-6o from the other inner planet Mercury. All three will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars and given the range of apparent magnitudes should make for a great view and even a picture.
   Apparent MagnitudesWaxing Crescent Moon: -8.42 Venus:-4.16 Mercury: -0.42
   
   
   
   
   
   

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The Inner Planets Meet

   Thursday evening May 21st, shortly after sunset, the two inner planets Mercury (apparent magnitude 0.41) and Venus (apparent magnitude -4.16) will be about 1o from each other. Both planets will fit within the 7o field of view of 7×50 binoculars as the graphics below show. Both planets are in motion along their respective orbital paths with Mercury moving toward the east while Venus is moving toward the west.


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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Say it Ain’t So!


   According to the web site Physics-Astronomy on May 16th the crescent Moon will be in a conjunction with the inner planet Venus and an outer planet, Jupiter, in a formation looking like a smiley face.

   This type of conjunction has happened in the past including one in 2 B.C. that has been suggested to be the ‘Star of Bethlehem’. More recently this triple conjunction did happen in December 2008, according to the article.
   Click here to see a list of future planetary conjunctions.

   Looking down from above the solar system on May 16th showing the orbital positions of Venus, the Earth, and Jupiter. From this graphic it shows that from the Earth you would have to look toward different directions to see either planet.

   No this will not happen.
   Here are reasons why this article about the conjunction is “fake news”.

   Venus is visible in the evening skies at sunset over the western horizon and sets around 9-10 pm local time. (Rises: 7:23 am – Sets: 10:24 pm)
   Jupiter is visible in the morning skies over the southern horizon and sets during the afternoon local time. (Rises: 12:45 am – Sets: 10:47 am)
   The article does not indicate which crescent Moon. Is this a waxing crescent Moon in the evening or a waning crescent Moon in the morning?
   The Moon is in fact a 22.8-day old waning crescent Moon in the morning skies. However the Moon is closer to Neptune and Dwarf Planet Ceres than it is to either Venus or Jupiter.



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Mercury at Superior Conjunction

orbital-positions   Monday May 4th the innermost planet Mercury reaches superior conjunction. At superior conjunction Mercury will be on the opposite side of the Sun. The graphic to the right shows the planet positions relative to the Earth and Sun for both inner planets and outer planets.

   While at this superior conjunction Mercury will not be directly in line with the Earth and the Sun – on the ecliptic. Mercury has an orbital inclination of 7o with respect to the ecliptic. So like our Moon, Mercury during each complete orbit, will cross the plane of the ecliptic moving north (ascending node) and also moving south (descending node). For this superior conjunction Mercury had just crossed the ecliptic moving south and is approximately 0.45o south.
   

   
   
   

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Saturn at Western Quadrature – 2020

saturn-west-quadrature   Tuesday April 21st, the position of the planet Saturn with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called western quadrature. Saturn is at a 90 degree angle from us as this graphic shows. Think third quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Saturn leads the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Saturn rises before the Sun and also sets before the Sun.

Saturn currently is within the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer as this graphic shows. From the northern hemisphere, looking toward the southern horizon, you can find Saturn over the southeastern horizon about midway between Mars to the east, left, and Jupiter to the west, right.

Learn a little (or a lot) 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”. 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.

An ‘Old’ April Moon at Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), for this orbit, on Monday April 20th. At that time the new Moon will be at a distance of 31.86 Earth diameters 252,563 miles (406,641 km) from the Earth.

   On the day of the apogee Moon the 27.2-day old thin waning crescent Moon will be rising about 1 hour before the Sun rises and if spotted could become a personal record for seeing an ‘old’ Moon.

   While out looking for the Moon there are several planets arranged across the southern and southeastern horizon. They are arranged west to east (or east to west) along the ecliptic, the Earth’s orbital path around the Sun, as the two graphics below are showing.

   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” in NSTA’s Science Scope Magazine.

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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