Mars on the Move

   Friday morning January 17th, before sunrise, the last quarter Moon will be about 5-6o from the blue-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. However the celestial highlight coming up is further east or lower and closer to the eastern horizon where there are two reddish-colored objects of about the same apparent brightness or magnitude. One object is the planet Mars and the other is the star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion.

click on animated graphic to see it larger

Mars passing Antares – January 17-23 – 6 am CST

   Watch over the next several mornings and you will be able to determine which one is Mars and which is Antares as one of them moves past the other – as this animated graphic is showing. Also, relative to Mars and Antares the Moon is waning in phase as it zips past the two.

   There is an interesting connection between the star Antares and the planet Mars, based on their similar reddish color. There are times like this year when the two are close and part of the mythology surrounding the two suggests that the star was given its name so as to not confuse it with the planet Mars. The name Antares comes from the Greek word translated to ‘Rival of Mars’.

   Whenever that was historically Mars was probably known as one of the ‘wandering stars’ from the Greek word ‘planetai’. So with its reddish color, like blood, this ‘wandering star’ came to represent Mars, the ‘G-d of War’. Antares, on the other hand is a red supergiant star with a diameter estimated to be such that if it were at the center of our solar system Antares would fill the solar system out to around the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

   
   
   

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Mid-Winter Skies

   Tuesday evening December 24th around sunset or after the skies darken look toward the western horizon and you can’t miss noticing the bright celestial object – the inner planet Venus. Also, despite the fact that we are now two seasons away from our summer (Northern Hemisphere), over the western horizon are three stars making up the ‘Summer Triangle’. These three stars each belong to a seperate constellation but together they form an asterism,not a constellation, but a recognizable star shape.

   Wednesday morning December 25th look toward the eastern horizon for the ‘Red Planet’ (Mars) to be above the horizon and about 15o from the reddish star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion. In this graphic Antares is just above the horizon.
Higher above Mars, toward the right or the west, is a the bluish star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. And higher still but toward the left is another reddish star. This is Arcturus in Bootes the Herdsman.

   As this year and decade come to a close I’d like to thank all my readers and the universe in general for allowing me an opportunity to share things celestial.
Have a happy and safe Holiday however you celebrate.


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Mars – Spica Conjunction

   Saturday morning November 9th the planet Mars will be within about 2-3o from the blue-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. Both will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars.

   
   
   

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Waxing Crescent Moon Near Spica

   Sunday evening September 1st the 2.6-day old waxing crescent Moon will be about 10-11o to the west from the blue-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden.

   
   
   

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Moon-Spica Conjunction

   Monday evening August 5th the 5-day old waxing crescent Moon will be within about 5-6o from the blue-white star Spica over the southwestern horizon. Both will set shortly before midnight local time.
   Spica is part of the constellation Virgo the Harvest Maiden and represents a bundle of grasses, perhaps wheat, in her left hand.

   
   
   

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Saturn at Opposition – 2019

   Tuesday July 9th the outer planet Saturn reaches its orbital position known as opposition. This is a position which has the faster moving Earth passing Saturn and at opposition is centered between the outer planet and the Sun. Picture the arrangement with the Moon at full phase; Sun – Earth – Moon, and that is similar to the arrangement for Saturn at opposition.
   When an outer planet, like Saturn, reaches opposition that planet rises around local time for sunset and is visible all night.
   The 7.5-day old waning gibbous moon will be west from Saturn and a few degrees above the bluish-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden – both over the southwestern horizon. Look for the planet Jupiter and the reddish star Antares, the ‘heart’ of Scorpius the Scorpion to be just to the west from Saturn.

   
   
   
   
   

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Give Mom a Diamond

   About an hour after local sunset, on Mother’s Day May 12th, go outside and face south and look for the 8-day old waxing gibbous Moon to be near the star Regulus. Then look for the bluish-white colored star Spica.
   Spica, a star in Virgo the Harvest Maiden, marks the lower corner of an *asterism known as ‘the Diamond of Virgo’. To see the asterism look up to the left from Spica for the reddish star Arcturus in the kite-shaped constellation Bootes the Herdsman. Then look nearly straight up, the zenith, for the dimmest of the diamond stars, Cor Caroli in Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs. Then look down to the right for the star Denebola, the tail of Leo the Lion.
   Look toward the western horizon for a reddish star, actually the ‘Red Planet’ Mars.

*An asterism is a group of stars forming a recognizable pattern using stars within a constellation or by combining stars from more than one constellation. For example, the Big and Little Dipper are asterisms.

   
   
   

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