by William J. Bechaver
Last week, we were at our closest approach to Saturn. As it shares the stage with brighter Mars, it is no less spectacular. This will remain the best summer in years to observe the nearest planets at their best, as Mars and Saturn continue to dominate the sky all night long.
Though we’ve been concentrating on our nearest and most noteworthy planets, Mars and Saturn, for a couple of weeks, we’ve allowed Jupiter to drift off to the west.
But Jupiter remains spectacular, still outshining Mars slightly, though it is much further away. Jupiter’s dominance remains because of its extreme size.
Jupiter is about twenty times larger than Mars, so although it is more than ten times more distant than the red planet, the gas giant still appears about twice as large, from Earth, and therefore continues to be slightly brighter in the sky.
Jupiter will be easy to find this week, as it will lie very near the moon on the evening of Saturday 11 June. As we’ve watched the gap between the two close with each monthly encounter, the Moon and Jupiter will form a pair so close this month, that it can finally be referred to as a true conjunction. And next month, the pairing will be even better, though only slightly, as they will be less than one degree apart.
Go out any time after the Sun sets on Saturday evening, and find the waxing crescent Moon above, and mighty Jupiter close at hand. It will be a spectacle worthy of astronomical note. The pair will be visible all evening long, until they finally set together just after midnight.
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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.