A Couple of Conjunctions

Hey, everyone. Happy Astronomy day! Thanks for tuning in.

If you like seeing what the Moon and planets are up to, and you’ve got a few minutes over the next few days, we’ve got a couple of neat things happening in the overhead display; we got a couple of conjunctions coming up. The Moon zips around the astrodome once a month (or does it Jose Cruz around?), and it, the Sun, and all of the planets travel through the sky near the same path, a line called the ecliptic. So, no, these conjunctions aren’t particularly rare. That doesn’t mean they’re any less great to see. Let’s get to it:

Tonight, Saturday the 14th, the waxing just-past-first-quarter-gibbous Moon, with the right side lit, will be sliding through the constellation Leo, the lion, just a bit below the very bright planet Jupiter—the stripey one. The two will be unmissable high in the southern sky by the time darkness falls. They’ll be about three or four degrees apart—about the with of a couple of fingers held out at arm’s length. The bright stars Regulus (Leo), Spica (Virgo), and Arcturus (Boötes) won’t be too far away.

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The southern sky Saturday evening, May 14, 2016

If that’s not enough, get a load of this. Let’s jump ahead to next Saturday night-slash-Sunday morning, the 21st or 22nd. The Moon, which will now be full, will have made its way about 100 degrees around in its orbit around the Earth. Now, it’ll be in the constellation Scorpius, the scorpion, low in the sky, nearly due south. Also in that neighborhood will be the planets Saturn—the orange one, and Mars—the Matt Damon one. The bright star Antares, the red heart of the scorpion, will be there, too. And it gets better: Mars will be at opposition that night. This means Mars will be directly opposite the Sun from the Earth; a 150 million mile-long rope running from Mars to the Sun would run right through the Earth. Mars won’t be at its brightest for another week or so, thanks to a couple of orbital quirks, though. The four will make for a neat little rhombus-type thing, which, with that full moon, will be a tremendous sight. It’ll be a late-night affair, this time, though. So you’ll need to be out late to see it, but don’t worry; I’ll remind you about this next week. This’ll really be something worth checking out.

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The southern sky Sunday morning May 22, 2016

Have a look at the high-quality photos from down at Sky Watch HQ, which show the skies in the evening to the south over this frog-filled outpost of the northeast both of those nights.

Clear skies, everyone!

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