Neptune at 2021 Solar conjunction

   Wednesday March 10th the outer ringed planet Neptune will reach a point in its respective orbit where Neptune will be on the opposite side of the Sun as viewed from here on Earth. Neptune, or any of the other outer planets (Mars to Neptune), dwarf planets, or small solar system bodies beyond the Earth’s orbit, will all eventually reach this position on the opposite side of the Sun known as solar conjunction.
   For the two inner planets, Mercury and Venus, when they are at a similar position on the opposite side of the Sun, they are at superior conjunction.
   
   
   

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.

The Moon, Mars, and NASA’s Perseverance

   Thursday evening February 18th the 7-day old almost first quarter but still waxing crescent Moon will be about 3o from the ‘Red Planet’ Mars. Despite the -11.75 apparent magnitude of the Moon Mars, with an apparent magnitude of 0.75, will still be visible.

   
   NASA Perseverance is scheduled to land on Mars on 18 February 2021, at around 20 UT or 2 pm CST.

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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Moon – Uranus Conjunction

   Wednesday evening February 17th the 6-day old waxing crescent Moon will be about 3-4o from the outer and ringed Planet Uranus. While the Moon with an apparent magnitude of -11.5 will certainly be visible, Uranus with an apparent magnitude of 5.81 will not!

   
   
   

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Crescent Moon – Neptune Conjunction

   Saturday February 13th the 2-day old thin waxing crescent Moon will be about 2-3o from the outer planet Neptune and about 6-7o to the west from Dwarf Planet Ceres. The Moon will pass by Ceres over the next 24 hours and by about this time tomorrow the Moon will be to the east from Ceres.
   I should point out that Ceres with an apparent magnitude between 8th and 9th and Neptune with an apparent magnitude between 7th and 8th neither will be visible to the unaided eye.
   However when you are looking toward the Moon you will be looking in the direction of these two distant members of our solar system. This graphic shows the position of the Earth, our Moon, Ceres, and Neptune on February 13th. From this perspective objects to the left of the Sun will be seen in the evening skies as the Earth rotates.

   
   
   

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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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Leo, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and a Ram

   No, that is not the opening line to a “walked into a bar…” joke, but rather an example of trying to fit 4 different topics into one title!
Read on.

   Friday evening January 29th the 17-day old waning gibbous Moon will be about 4-5o from the star Regulus. This star is known as the ‘Heart’ of the constellation Leo the Lion.

   Mars is visible further west over the southwest horizon and is a few degrees from the planet Uranus. Both are near the 3-star pattern for the constellation Aries the Ram and its brightest star Hamal with a 2.0 apparent magnitude. The two planets have a sharp contrast in relative apparent magnitude with Hamal and with each other – Mars at 0.40 and Uranus at a 5.80 apparent magnitude. Both planets will fit within the field of view of binoculars with Mars appearing as a small reddish ‘dot’ and Uranus, if seen at all, a much fainter bluish-green and smaller ‘dot’.

   Earlier in the evening, after sunset, look toward the western horizon for the innermost planet Mercury. With an apparent magnitude of 0.45 Mercury is slightly dimmer than Mars and should be easy to spot as it will be the brightest star-like object in that direction.

   
   
   

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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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January Moon at Ascending Node

   Sunday January 24th the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving north. This is known as the ascending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path has with the ecliptic. The ecliptic is actually the Earth’s orbit, and the Moon’s orbit is inclined about 6o from the ecliptic. So there are two node intersections, the ascending and descending nodes.

   On the day of the node crossing the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be over the southeastern horizon around sunset local time. Mars is higher over the southern horizon while Mercury is low over the western horizon. In between are three outer planets, Uranus, Neptune, and Dwarf Planet Ceres.

   Uranus has an apparent magnitude of 5.8 and could be viewed with binoculars and certainly with larger aperture instruments and camera time exposures.

   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as many graphics show? 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 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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January Apogee Moon

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (furthest from Earth), for this orbit, on Thursday January 21st. For this apogee the 9-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be at a distance of 31.70 Earth diameters, 251,282 miles (404,400 km) from the Earth.

   On the date of the apogee, and high above the southwestern horizon, is the 8-day old waxing gibbous Moon. The Moon will be about 7o to the east from the planet Mars, and about 9o from the outer planet Uranus.


   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 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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