Thursday, February 01, 2007

Planets on Parade

If you look to the west after sunset these days, you can't help but notice Venus shining brightly in the early evening sky. Mercury is visible too right now. On Bonaire Mercury appears directly below Venus, about two thirds to three quarters of the way to the horizon. The later you look, the nearer Mercury will be to the horizon.

This picture shows how Mercury and Venus looked two hours ago, at 7:20 pm on Thursday evening.

If you are further North than Bonaire, Mercury will appear to Venus' lower right, instead of directly below Venus. This Sky and Telescope page has a great diagram showing you what you can expect to see if you live up in the frozen North. And for those of you located way down in the Southern Hemisphere, the separation between the planets should look like what the Sky and Telescope page shows, but Mercury will be to the lower left of Venus rather than to the lower right.

The planet Saturn is quite visible in the evening sky too. Once you know where to look, you can follow it for a number of months. Friday night, Feb. 2, is a golden opportunity to locate Saturn. The moon will be really close to Saturn this Friday night, and Saturn is the brightest thing in the area besides the Moon.

So anybody with clear skies should be able to spot three planets Friday night, no astronomy expertise necessary.

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