If you intend to be a planetary observer these days, you have to be an early riser. Most of the visible planets are only observable in the early morning hours, rising before the Sun.
The only planet viewable in the evening sky is Saturn, and it sets shortly after sunset. It is low in the south-west, and relatively unremarkable right now, being on the far side of the sun, and nearly ten times more distant.
This month, we are being treated to a beautiful grouping of the brightest planets in the sky. Such a grouping is called a conjunction. Go out every morning, well before sunrise, at least by 6:30. By that time, most of the fainter stars will be fading from view, as the planets are climbing far in advance of the Sun. High in the sky, it will be easy to spot Venus in the east. Just below her, you will see Jupiter, and nearby, just below, the much fainter Mars. For the next week, Venus will descend in the sky, each morning appearing closer to the fainter pair, until next Wednesday 28 October, the three will be an impressive trio of planetary wonders together. All the while, Mars will slowly be moving a little further from Jupiter, seemingly allowing room for Venus to join the group.
Get out and view them on any or every morning for the next week, for the grouping will be an opportunity to view a relatively rare occurrence. The last grouping of these, the brightest three, this closely together, occurred way back in June of 1991. And the party’s not over, there will be more guests to arrive in the weeks to come.
Well, it’s been over three months now since the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto. New Horizons has traveled an amazing 108 million miles into deep space beyond Pluto. Now we have learned it has its next fly-by target in sight! But it won’t arrive there for a couple more years.
Thanks for your interest in astronomy and our featured columns! If you have any article requests or questions, contact Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts [SPACE] at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments, suggestions, or inquiries about scientific information, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for current updates or additional viewing opportunities.
William J. Bechaver is the Director of SPACE – Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts [SPACE], the premier Astronomical Society in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.