Friday, May 30, 2008

Inner planets align

Two weeks ago, Mercury was found in our low western sky just after sunset. Today, it is gone from view. Two months ago, Venus shone brightly in our eastern sky in the morning twilight. Today, it is gone from view. Both of these worlds have moved in their orbits so that they are slowly approaching the sun, at least from our viewpoint.

On June 7, Mercury is at its farthest from the sun as it can be. It is also passing between the sun and the Earth, which means that Mercury is as close to the Earth as it can come — 51 million miles.

On June 8, Venus is on the opposite side of the sun from the Earth, lying 161 million miles away.

These two inner planets are there, they just can't be seen by viewers on Earth. They are in near alignment with each other and the sun.

Such is our view from Earth...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mars amid the Bees

Tonight and tomorrow night, Mars slides through the Beehive cluster in the heart of Cancer. A pair of 10 x 50 binoculars easily show the event.

In the image: to the lower right of Mars are the stars Pollux and Castor in Gemini. To the upper left of Mars shines Regulus and Saturn, with Saturn being the brighter of the two. The Beehive is the dim blurry bundle just to the Mars' left. Both Mars and the Bees are nearly centered within the diamond shaped skep.

Such is our view from Earth ...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mars meets M44

Earlier this month, Mars drifted past Pollux and Castor in Gemini. Over the next 10 days, Mars moves through the heart of Cancer and across the star cluster M44. Bring out the binoculars to see this event in the western sky at 10 p.m between May 18 and 26. On May 19, the Red Planet will be next to the dim star Eta Cancri. You need to look carefully, as they will be quite close. Mars' glare may overwhelming, but it's worth a try.

On May 22 and 23, Mars moves just above M44. This whole scene is contained in a box of stars: Gamma, Eta, Theta, and Delta Cancri. At this time, Mars will be only 167,000,000 miles from our little blue world while the stars of M44 will be 500 x 5,900,000,000,000 miles away.

Such is our view from Earth ...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Moon passes Mercury

Last night, the Moon hovered just to the upper right of Mercury. From 8:50 p.m. until they sank below the wnw ridgeline, they gave an enchanting sight.

Tonight the crescent Moon will be quite a bit above the little planet, perhaps 25 of its diameters above it. Be sure to use binoculars for a better view.

Such is our view from Earth...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mercury: A Challenge, Mars: Continues Marching

Shortly after sunset, the small planet Mercury is visible very low in the wnw. If the air is clear, it is surprising how bright it is. Just to Mercury's left is the brightest star in Taurus, Aldebaran. See the image above.

On Wednesday after 8:45 p.m. the crescent moon is to the right of Mercury. For the next 10 days or so, the little planet climbs higher each evening becoming easier to spot. By the third week of May, though, it rapidly drops from view as it moves between the Earth and the sun.

Mars continues its journey past Castor and Pollux. The "triplets" are easily seen in the image above.

Such is our view from Earth..

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mercury Moves in May

Our solar system's smallest planet makes its best evening appearance for 2008. Mercury can be found after 8:50 p.m. and before 9:20 p.m. in the wnw. Every night until May 14th, it rises higher as it swings in its orbit away from the sun. Mercury can be seen, if the horizon is low enough and the air is clear enough, as a starlike object just above the horizon. Binoculars greatly help in the hunt.

On the evening of May 6, our thin crescent moon is placed just to Mercury's upper right. This should allow for an easier time identifying this little world.

Such is our view from Earth...