Mercury at Inferior Conjunction

orbital-positions   Wednesday December 13th 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.

   While 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 north of the ecliptic.

   
   
   

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.

Sun Enters Ophiuchus

ophiuchus   Thursday, November 30th the Sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic, moves out of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion and into the constellation of Ophiuchus the Healer. This is the true or actual position of the Sun as opposed to the pseudoscience of astrology which usually has the astrological Sun one constellation ahead or east from the Astronomical Sun’s position.

ophiuchus-scorpion   Ophiuchus is the 13th constellation of the zodiac (Astronomical) but does not appear in the astrological zodiac nor in the astrology column found in many newspapers. A constellation of either zodiac is defined the same way, using the ecliptic path. If the ecliptic passes through a constellation boundary then that constellation is a zodiac constellation. In the graphics I use the ecliptic path clearly crosses across the boundary for the constellation Ophiuchus the Healer.

   Ophiuchus is described in a mythology story as a healer. In one story following a mortal fight between Orion and Scorpius the Scorpion Ophiuchus kills the scorpion by stepping on it; extracts the venom from the scorpion; and then uses it to bring Orion back to life.
cadeuces   In Ophiuchus’s hands he is holding a long snake, the 2-part constellation of Serpens – Serpens Cauda (tail of the snake) and Serpens Caput (head of the snake). There are many stories about Ophiuchus and the snake including one where this is the origin of the symbol for medicine, the caduceus. However the caduceus is used primarily in the United States as the symbol for medicine, and is depicted as 2 snakes wrapped around a staff with wings. rodIf there is a connection with a medical symbol then it should be with the Rod of Asclepius, a staff with one snake.
   
   
   

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.

Mars – Spica Conjunction


   Starting with Wednesday November 27th and continuing for the next several days the ‘Red Planet’ Mars will pass within about 3-4o from the blue-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. This animated graphic is set for 5:30 am CST at 1-day intervals starting with November 27th and ending on December 3rd.
   Jupiter is several degrees further east from Mars but by this time of the morning Jupiter will have just risen.

   Those familiar with the starry sky probably have heard the mnemonic “Follow the Arc to Arcturus, then speed to Spica” as a way to use the stars forming the curved handle (the ‘Arc’) of the Big Dipper as a guide to the reddish star Arcturus and then Spica. Read a bit more about following the arc from a previous post.
   
   
   

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.

Mercury at Eastern Elongation

orbital-positions    On Friday November 24th 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!

   Currently Mercury is visible over the south to southwestern horizon at sunset shining with an apparent magnitude of -0.27. About 3o above Mercury is the planet Saturn with an apparent magnitude of 0.50.

   
   
   
   
   

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.

Sun Enters Scorpius

   Thursday November 23rd the Sun, in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic, moves out of the constellation Libra the Scales and into the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion. This is the true or actual position of the Sun as opposed to the pseudoscience of astrology which usually has the astrological Sun one constellation ahead or east from the Astronomical Sun’s position.

   Read a little more about how astrology has the Sun incorrectly placed in a previous blog, and in another blog discussing the effects of precession.
   
   
   

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.

Sun Not in Sagittarius

  According to the pseudoscience of astrology the Sun enters the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer on Wednesday November 22nd. When in fact the actual position of the Sun is still within the boundaries of the constellation of Libra the Scales.

   Read a little more about how astrology has the Sun incorrectly placed in a previous blog, and in another blog discussing the effects of precession.

   
   
   

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.

2017 Summer Solstice on Mars

A Martian Year

A Martian Year – at One Earth Month Intervals

   Monday November 20th is the summer solstice on the planet Mars as the planet transitions from spring to summer during its 684 Earth day orbit around the Sun. Seasons on Mars are marked by the planet’s heliocentric longitude coordinates using the position of Mars along its orbit around the Sun. Each seasonal start/ending point is 90 degrees apart, but because of its elliptical-shaped orbit each Martian season is of varying lengths.

   I’m not exactly sure why this particular date is used but by international agreement astronomers have selected 11 April, 1955 as 0 degrees for year 1 of this Martian calendar. What this means is that on Monday November 20th, Earth time, it is the start of summer for year 34 using the aforementioned calendar system.

Year 34
0 degrees — Spring Equinox — May 05 2017
90 degrees — Summer solstice — November 20 2017
180 degrees — Fall Equinox — May 20 2018
270 degrees — Winter Solstice — October 16 2018

Year 35
0 degrees — Spring Equinox — March 23 2019
90 degrees — Summer solstice — October 08 2019
180 degrees — Fall Equinox — April 08 2020
270 degrees — Winter Solstice — September 02 2020

Year 36
0 degrees — Spring Equinox — February 07 2021
90 degrees — Summer solstice — August 25 2021
180 degrees — Fall Equinox — February 24 2022
270 degrees — Winter Solstice — July 21 2022

Learn a little (or a lot) more about the exploration of Mars at the NASA Journey to Mars web site.

   
   
   

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.