by William J. Bechaver
At the end of last month, we witness the Moon in conjunction with the two brightest planets in the sky, Venus and Jupiter.
A few days later, the Moon had a close approach to Saturn, but the pairing occured too low in the eastern sky, while Saturn was still obscured in the early morning glare.
Now, Jupiter has climbed higher in the morning sky, as Venus has began to sink lower, as it moves further in its orbit to the far side of the Sun.
As Venus sinks lower, our nearest planet will pass very near Saturn on it’s way around, as Saturn is rising higher, emerging from the pre-dawn glare.
During the early morning hours of Monday 18 February, the two planets will lie very low in the south-eastern sky as it begins to lighten.
Go out before the sunrise begins to brighten the sky. The pair will rise at about four-thirty in the morning, with Venus just above Saturn. The Sun doesn’t rise until two hours later, giving us ample opportunity to watch the pair rise in the east before the Sun’s interference.
The two planets will lie only about one degree from each other as they rise, with Venus slightly above more distant Saturn.
Venus now lies about as far from us as the Sun, as it is passing further away in its orbit. Saturn lies about eleven times further from us, far beyond the Sun, on the distant side of its orbit.
When you go out on Monday morning, first you can locate Jupiter, higher up in the sky. It is climbing higher than the position where we observed it two weeks ago, near Venus.
Venus has now sunk rapidly, and will be observed near Saturn, far below Jupiter. Venus still remains brighter than either more distant Jupiter, and much more brilliant than Saturn. It will be easy to observe as it rises in a dark sky, with Saturn near below.
As the pair rises, and the sky begins to lighten, the surrounding stars will fade, while the two planets will remain easily visible in the brightening sky.
The planets remain visible longer, as they are reflecting sunlight, so the reflected light remains visible after the dimmer, much more distant stars fade out.
Watch as the pair rises, and finally Saturn is lost to the morning glare. Venus will remain viewable until nearly the time of the sunrise, when it will finally fade from view.
So, for our earliest view of Saturn in the morning sky, go out on Monday morning, and let brighter Venus point the way.
Now, all the planets will reside in the morning sky, except for Mars, which continues to follow us in our orbit, and remains in the night sky, even throughout the summer.
Early next month, Saturn will once again form an amazing pairing with the Moon, easily visible as it climbs higher.
Later in the year, Venus will pass around the far side of the Sun, and will be lost from view, but this week, it remains our guide, to create an amazing pairing of Venus and Saturn in the early morning sky.
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• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.