Following the Planets

Hey, Sky Fans. This week, I’ve been hoping to get a good photo of Mars, which is really bright these days, and the brightening Saturn, to share with you. The thick, pregnant summertime air has settled on my little corner of the world sooner than I hoped, though. So, between that and some other storms passing through, this shot is the best I’ve been able to do. It’s too bad, too. Mars is so small and so far away that it’s not often very bright. So, when it is, it’s really something to see. It’s like this very bright red eye staring down menacingly from above. It’s a little imposing and definitely unusual.

This shot is from this past Monday night, May 23. You can see the Moon doing its best to hide Saturn in its glare. Then, not too far away, are Mars and the stars Dschubba and Acrab (But… what? Its constellation is Ascorpion! Bam!).

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For now, Mars and Saturn are in the constellation Scorpius, the scorpion, where they’ll be clear through the summer. If you keep an eye on them over the coming months, you’ll see them move further apart for the next couple of weeks, with Mars actually dipping into Libra, the scales, for a bit. Then, by mid-July, as our perspective on them changes, Mars will appear to turn back, to retrograde, and head toward Saturn and Antares again. By the end of August the two will be in a tight line with Antares, Scorpius’s brightest star.

This is a great time to have a look around at night. Along with Mars and Saturn, we’re still getting great views of Jupiter, which is very bright and very high in the mid-evening skies, still in the constellation Leo, the lion. So, with very little trouble, you can have a look at three planets, four if you count the one you’re standing on when you do, and check out what’s going on across almost a billion miles of nearly empty space.

If you remember the mornings in January, when all of the planets met up in the morning skies, and then slowly pulled apart, you can see them starting to meet back up now in the evening skies. If you think about this a bit, it can give you a great idea of how the movement of the planets plays out over time. It’s no wonder the ancients looked up and were able to pick them out from the background stars and realized they were something different. Imagine seeing a bright, unpolluted sky, the band of the Milky Way rambling its way from horizon to horizon, with these five other things dancing past each other night after night.

I like look to up and trace the line across the sky between the planets. You can see it run from Jupiter to Mars and then on to Saturn. When you do, you can check in on the stars that are nearby. Venus and Mercury aren’t really cooperating, but they will, too, before too long.

Have a look when you can, and clear skies, everyone!

 

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