Mars and the Pleiades!

Hey, Sky Fans!

Here’s a photo I photoed last night.

Orion, Taurus, and Mars in the Southwest Sky, March 2, 2021

Not bad, right? Thanks.

It’s kind of an exciting time in the skies this week. In case you haven’t heard yet, Mars, the fourth-rock from the Sun, which recently hopped across the invisible border from Aries into Taurus, will pass very close to the famous Pleiades cluster in our night sky!

To spot the fun, all you need to do is head out once it’s good and dark and look to the south for Orion, which you can see above (and very far behind) that car in the left of the photo. Then just follow the line of his three belt stars toward the west, more or less to your left. Before long, you’ll get to a bright red light at the top of a V-shaped group of stars. That’s not Mars. That’s Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus shining at us from in front of the Hyades cluster.

Now, keep going along that line. The next red light you come to is Mars with the tiny, dipper-shaped Pleiades cluster right next to it. Check out how close together they are! Of course, they’re not close together at all. Mars is like 100 million miles from us, while the 1000 stars in the Pleiades are 450 light years. That’s…. carry the six… with the math…. head hurts… something like 4,250,000,000,000,000 km (2,700,000,000,000,000 miles).

Here’s that same photo again, but this time I used that Groupon for sky labels that I’ve had kicking around for a while.

Orion, Taurus, and Mars in the Southwest Sky, March 2, 2021, with labels

Like I said, that was last night — March 2, 2021. So, head out over the next couple of nights and watch as March strolls on through. The lines will change, but the basics will be the same. Tonight, March 3, that apparent gap between Mars and the Pleiades will be at its smallest. Then, from the perspective of the photo, we’ll see Mars move along sort of an 11 o’clock-ish sort of path as the gap widens and we head toward the weekend and into next week.

While you’re there, check out that long amazing line that runs from Betelgeuse to Aldebaran, and then to Mars. That’s a lot of reddish orange light.

I love these sorts of close alignments, conjunctions, you might say. They’re always unfailingly beautiful, and it’s great to get to see our solar system at work. As tons of reports go, this is the closest the planet and the cluster will get until 2038. I always find it funny when people say those kinds of things. Close meetings like these happen all the time. Just this past December, Saturn and Jupiter were the closest as they were going to be in a long time, and last spring Venus and the Pleiades got mixed up with each other; another rare thing. See? These “rare” things really aren’t that rare.

Plus It’s not like this just sprung up overnight. This has been revving up for quite a while; depending on how you see things, it’s been either a couple of weeks, or months, or billions of years.

So, these things aren’t uncommon; it’s just this particular conjunction that’s uncommon. Really, it being the last time it’ll happen for 17 years is only important if you measure your life by Mars-Pleiades conjunctions. I don’t.

Maybe this thing is close to that thing. Maybe not. But the whole story, watching them inch together and then glide apart is amazing. Watching the Moon’s phases is. Watching the stars creep across the sky. There’s something amazing every night are just amazing, and it’s really spectacular to think that we can actually watch the universe do its thing. It seems a little short-sighted to wait for the next big thing when the next big thing is all around us, and every night.

All that said, I hope you’ll head out and watch this happen. It’ll be quite a show. I’m really excited to watch things change, even more than I am about the exact moment of closeness tonight.

Thanks for stopping by, and clear skies, everyone!

1 Comment

  1. I was out with one of our Scouts last night, teaching him star names with the Winter Hexagon (with Betelgeuse thrown in), and we started with Rigel and went clockwise. A couple other boys joined in as we were going through it. We got around through Capella, and then —

    “You see the red one next to the Pleiades?”
    “That’s a trick!! It’s not a star at all! It’s Mars!! Wave ‘Hi’ to Percy… But you see that OTHER red one at the end of the ‘V’?

    Good wholesome geek fun, right there.

    Liked by 1 person

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