Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Time to see the Planets

As it has it, many of the planets are visible with the naked eye this month. I was in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania earlier this weekend a caught a baleful of what I thought was Venus, but the color was definitely yellowish. As it turns out, it was either Saturn or Jupiter (Probably the former since it was quite high), so I thought I would look around to see what else might be worth viewing.

To start, first try to find Venus; most newbies can do this. It is making an appearance as more than just an evening star. It will appear very white and very bright, the brightest thing in the sky except for the moon. Found it? Look for two fairly bright, matched stars near it. Those are Castor and Pollux (Castor's on top, the map above will be slightly tilted to the left when viewing in DC) the "heads" of the twins in the constellation of Gemini. Look a little while longer and you can see the "body" stars of Gemini, in the city they'll seem smudgy.

Mercury will be taking Venus's place as an evening star. Since it is so close to the sun it will only be visible just after sunset close to the horizon. Look left of and below Venus in Gemini before June 10th. After the 10th, it will be too close to the sun to easily discern.

Left and upwards of Gemini is a large backwards question mark. Hurray for Leo! With a little imagination you can image that curve is the mane of a lion. To the right of it is a large yellowish star. It's Saturn. If you got binoculars you can catch some rings.

Take an about face and around 8 or 9pm tonight you should see a very bright, large, yellowish star rising near the horizon. Jupiter! If it is quite dark or if you stare hard enough, you may be able to detect four faint smudges around it. Those are his largest moons. You can definitely pick them up with binoculars even, cheap ones. If you do, Jupiter will appear more ball like and you may be able to discern some stripes. Its quite cool to think that on a clear night you can see the moons of Jupiter. You can brag to your friends at work tomorrow. Hurray for Astronomy!

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