Two More Go Retro!

   Retrograde motion is an apparent motion of any Sun-orbiting object as viewed from one object to another object further from the Sun than the one the viewing is made from. Since we are based on the Earth our views of the planets and other objects orbiting the Sun come from that perspective. As I posted the other day, outer planets. for example, orbit the Sun more slowly than the Earth. So there are times when, as the Earth passes an outer planet, the outer planet appears to slow down and then move backward, to the west. After a period of time the planet resumes its regular eastward, or prograde, motion.
   The retrograde motion of an outer planet is easy to understand and even visualize, however the two inner planets also undergo retrograde motion. Half of each their respective orbit is eastward, prograde, but when they reach the opposite side of the Sun their orbit carries the inner planet around the Sun through inferior conjunction (between the Earth and Sun) toward the west, retrograde, for the other half of the orbit.
   For the record each ‘side’ of the orbit is known as an elongation. So at western elongation the inner planet is on the west side of the Sun and rises before the Sun rises – a morning planet. Half an orbit later the inner planet is at eastern elongation and rises and sets after the Sun – an evening planet.
   Venus is currently very prominent as an evening planet over the western horizon at sunset. The planet Mercury has recently passed through superior conjunction is gradually moving into the evening skies. Mercury is moving in prograde motion while Venus is moving in retrograde motion.


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Solar Opposites

   Inner planets like all the planets as viewed from Earth appear to be moving from one side of the Sun to the other. As a result the visible planets are seen either in the morning skies when located west from the Sun and rising before the Sun rises, or in the evening skies east from the Sun, and setting after the Sun sets. For the two inner planets, Mercury and Venus, these positions on either side of the Sun are known as elongations – western or greatest western elongation and its counterpart, eastern or greatest eastern elongation.
   As the graphics below show, both inner planets reach their respective elongations – but on opposite sides of the sun. Monday March 23rd Mercury is at western elongation in the morning skies, and on Tuesday March 24th Venus will be at eastern elongation in the evening skies.

   
   
   

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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Mercury at Western Elongation

   On Friday August 9th Mercury, the innermost planet, will reach its orbital position known as greatest western elongation at 19.0o. At that moment Mercury, the Sun, and the Earth, would be arranged in something close to approximating a right angle as this graphic shows. Even though it sounds confusing at western elongation for either Mercury or Venus the inner planet will be to the right of the Sun as we view them, meaning that at western elongation an inner planet rises in the east before the Sun rises. And at eastern elongation with the inner planet on the left side of the Sun the inner planet follows the Sun across the sky setting after the Sun sets.

   From our perspective the orbits of Mercury and Venus appear to move from one side of the Sun to the other – out to the left (east) from the Sun to eastern elongation, then reverse and move westward (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!

   Mercury is visible in the morning skies about an hour before sunrise local time, as this graphic shows.

   
   
   
   
   

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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Mercury at Western Elongation

   On Thursday April 11th Mercury, the innermost planet, will reach its orbital position known as greatest western elongation at 28.0o. At that moment Mercury, the Sun, and the Earth, would be arranged in something close to approximating a right angle as this graphic shows. Even though it sounds confusing at western elongation for either Mercury or Venus the inner planet will be to the right of the Sun as we view them, meaning that at western elongation an inner planet rises in the east before the Sun rises. And at eastern elongation with the inner planet on the left side of the Sun the inner planet follows the Sun across the sky setting after the Sun sets.

   From our perspective the orbits of Mercury and Venus appear to move from one side of the Sun to the other – out to the left (east) from the Sun to eastern elongation, then reverse and move westward (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!


   Mercury is visible in the morning skies just before sunrise local time, as this graphic shows. Venus is to the west from Mercury and further west are the giant outer planets Saturn and Jupiter. Considerably fainter and requiring optical assistance is another giant outer planet, Neptune. And completing the morning planet line-up is Dwarf Planet Ceres.

   
   
   
   
   

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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Venus Reaches Western Elongation

inner-planets-positions   Sunday January 6th Venus reaches the point in its orbit called greatest western elongation. As this graphic shows the inner planet Venus, or Mercury, is more or less at a right angle (90o) from the Sun and Earth at western elongation. From the surface of the Earth, your backyard, for example, Venus is to the right, or western side of the Sun and is rising before the Sun.

   On the day of the elongation Venus will be very visible over the southeastern horizon at or before sunrise local time. Venus is joined by the planet Jupiter, about 13o below Venus, east from Venus. The reddish star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion is also about 13o from Venus, and is about 6o from Jupiter. If the skies are dark enough the Milky Way should be visible rising toward the southwest.

   At western elongation Venus, or for that matter Mercury the other inner planet, is as far out from the Sun as we see them and as a result Venus or Mercury will rise at the latest time in this orbit. On the day of the western elongation Venus will be 46.9o from the Sun. From western elongation forward Venus or Mercury will be moving eastward toward the Sun and each day rising closer and closer to the time of sunrise. As the planet moves eastward it is moving further away from the Earth toward superior conjunction on the opposite side of the Sun.


    As the distance between the Earth and Venus, or Mercury, increases combined with the decreasing angle between the planet, the Earth, and the Sun, Venus or Mercury decreases in apparent size and also waxes through gibbous phase shapes but we never see it at a full phase since that is 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.


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Mercury at Western Elongation

   On Saturday December 15th Mercury, the innermost planet, will reach its orbital position known as greatest western elongation at 21.3o. At that moment Mercury, the Sun, and the Earth, would be arranged in something close to approximating a right angle as this graphic shows. Even though it sounds confusing at western elongation for either Mercury or Venus the inner planet will be to the right of the Sun as we view them, meaning that at western elongation an inner planet rises in the east before the Sun rises. And at eastern elongation with the inner planet on the left side of the Sun the inner planet follows the Sun across the sky setting after the Sun sets.

   From our perspective the orbits of Mercury and Venus appear to move from one side of the Sun to the other – out to the left (east) from the Sun to eastern elongation, then reverse and move westward (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!


   Mercury is visible in the morning skies just before sunrise local time, as this graphic shows. Venus, to the west from Mercury rises about 2 hours before Mercury, and Jupiter rises shortly after Mercury.

   
   
   
   
   

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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Mercury at Western Elongation

19jan-mercury-east-elongation   On Sunday April 29th Mercury, the innermost planet, will reach its orbital position known as greatest western elongation at 27.0o. At that moment Mercury, the Sun, and the Earth, would be arranged in something close to approximating a right angle as this graphic shows. Even though it sounds confusing at western elongation for either Mercury or Venus the inner planet will be to the right of the Sun as we view them, meaning that at western elongation an inner planet rises in the east before the Sun rises. And at eastern elongation with the inner planet on the left side of the Sun the inner planet follows the Sun across the sky setting after the Sun sets.
orbital-positions
   From our perspective the orbits of Mercury and Venus appear to move from one side of the Sun to the other – out to the left (east) from the Sun to eastern elongation, then reverse and move westward (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!


   Mercury is visible in the morning skies just before sunrise local time, as this graphic shows.

   
   
   
   
   

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 Western Elongation

19jan-mercury-east-elongation
   On Monday January 1st Mercury, the innermost planet, will reach its orbital position known as greatest western elongation at 22.7o. At that moment Mercury, the Sun, and the Earth, would be arranged in something close to approximating a right angle as this graphic shows. Even though it sounds confusing at western elongation for either Mercury or Venus the inner planet will be to the right of the Sun as we view them, meaning that at western elongation an inner planet rises in the east before the Sun rises. And at eastern elongation with the inner planet on the left side of the Sun the inner planet follows the Sun across the sky setting after the Sun sets.
orbital-positions
   From our perspective the orbits of Mercury and Venus appear to move from one side of the Sun to the other – out to the left (east) from the Sun to eastern elongation, then reverse and move westward (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!


   Mercury is visible in the morning skies before sunrise along with Mars, Jupiter, and the stars Spica and Antares, as this graphic shows.

   
   
   
   
   

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 Western Elongation

19jan-mercury-east-elongation
   On Tuesday September 12th Mercury, the innermost planet, will reach its orbital position known as greatest western elongation at 17.9o. At that moment Mercury, the Sun, and the Earth, would be arranged in something close to approximating a right angle as this graphic shows. Even though it sounds confusing at western elongation for either Mercury or Venus the inner planet will be to the right of the Sun as we view them, meaning that at western elongation an inner planet rises in the east before the Sun rises. And at eastern elongation with the inner planet on the left side of the Sun the inner planet follows the Sun across the sky setting after the Sun sets.
orbital-positions
   From our perspective the orbits of Mercury and Venus appear to move from one side of the Sun to the other – out to the left (east) from the Sun to eastern elongation, then reverse and move westward (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!

   Mercury is visible in the morning skies before sunrise along with Mars, Venus, and the star Regulus as this graphic shows.

   
   
   
   
   

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.

Venus at Western Elongation

inner-planets-positions   Saturday June 3rd Venus reaches the point in its orbit called greatest western elongation. As this graphic shows the inner planet Venus, or Mercury, is more or less at a right angle (90o) from the Sun and Earth at western elongation. From the surface of the Earth, your backyard, for example, Venus is to the right, or western side of the Sun and is rising before the Sun.

   At western elongation Venus, or for that matter Mercury the other inner planet, is as far out from the Sun as we see them and as a result Venus or Mercury will rise at the latest time in this orbit. On the day of the western elongation Venus will be 45.9o from the Sun. From western elongation forward Venus or Mercury will be moving eastward toward the Sun and each day rising closer and closer to the time of sunrise. As the planet moves eastward it is moving further away from the Earth toward superior conjunction on the opposite side of the Sun.


    As the distance between the Earth and Venus, or Mercury, increases combined with the decreasing angle between the planet, the Earth, and the Sun, Venus or Mercury decreases in apparent size and also waxes through gibbous phase shapes but we never see it at a full phase since that is at superior conjunction.

   
   
   
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.