I would have titled this a little star gazing but it’s not exactly about stars. 🙂
It’s about satellites! Not the man-made type – the natural satellites of the Sun.
This month is one of the very rare times when all the visible-to-the-naked-eye satellites of the Sun are visible from Earth at the same time! 🙂
Just after Sunset is your only chance of catching them all together.
The brightest of them all (and the most commonly seen) is the Moon, and before anyone nit-pics and points out that the Moon actually orbits the Earth and not the Sun i would counter with the fact that as the Earth orbits the Sun so, technically, so does the Moon. 😉 The Moon is at an average distance of a little over 384 000 km (239,000 mi) from Earth.
The next brightest is the planet Venus, our second closest neighbour in Space. It is setting in the West presently and is only visible for an hour or two after Sunset. The planets are given the name planet from the Ancient Greek word planasthai, meaning ‘To Wander’ for their observed habit of moving around relative to the seemingly ‘fixed’ stars in their constellations. Venus is a distance of some 108 million km (67 million mi.) from our Sun meaning at it’s closest is is some 41 million km from us or around 26 million miles!
Close to Venus, but considerably less bright is the barely visible planet Mercury It should be seen for a few more days just below the level of Venus and some 10 degrees to the right (= North in the Southern hemisphere – reversed in the Northern?) Mercury is the planet that is the closest distance from the Sun at some 58 million km. (36 million mi.) it also has a very elliptical shaped orbit varying it’s distance by some 24 million km. (15 million miles)!
Some 20 degrees higher on the Elliptic plane the planet Jupiter can be seen as a brighter than average star. (But it isn’t). The mean distance from the Sun to Jupiter is a whopping 778 million km or 484 million miles.
About the same distance higher on the Elliptic is the ringed planet, Saturn which is also setting but remains visible until around midnight. Saturn is 1.4 Billion kms (886 million mi.) distant from the Sun, on average.
Finally, at roughly the same distance from Saturn as Jupiter is, but in the opposite direction, is the ‘Red’ Planet, Mars. Mars is at it’s brightest for observation as it is close to it’s nearest point in it’s orbit to us. It is a very bright orange object. Mars orbits at an average distance of 228 million Kms or 128 million miles from the Sun and is roughly 65 million kms (40 million miles) away from Earth at present. It can get as much as 350 million kms (220 million miles) away from us when we are on opposite sides of the Sun.
Five planets and a moon in an arc in our night sky – for the rest of this month only folks – don’t miss it!
I had hoped to to get a photo tonight of Mars and the Moon in close proximity, but the clouds are not co-operating. 😦
So here’s a video of Jupiter and four of it’s moons and an old pic of the Moon.
*Not Really! – It’s a rare observation of the normal ‘full’ Moon side able to be seen when it is in it’s first ‘New’ crescent phase. You can just make out two small stars to the left side of the Moon.
Happy planet gazing! 😉
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