June 3, 2010

Three Planets Now Visible In Night Sky Until August

People living in the northern hemisphere will be able to go out any night this week an hour after sunset and see Venus, Saturn and Mars.

The planet Venus will be located slightly north of west, in the constellation Gemini.  To the left of Venus appearing in the constellation Leo, skywatchers will be able to spot Mars.  Then, further to the left of Mars will be Saturn shining in the western part of the constellation Virgo.

All three planets will appear across a 71-degree angle in the night sky. 

Venus, Mars and Saturn are all currently appearing slightly north of the ecliptic, the path the sun appears to follow over the year.

These three planets' position is in relation to the bright background stars, because they are beginning an interesting journey, in which starwatchers will be able to follow over the next two months.

Venus will have moved rapidly to the left in early July, crossing Cancer into Leo.  Meanwhile, Mars will have moved somewhat to the left, and Saturn appears to have hardly moved at all.

The three planets have now covered only 37 degrees in the sky, which is only half the spread they show in early June.

In the first week of August, the planets will be crowded into a 7-degree angle, with Mars to the left of Saturn beside Virgo along with Venus as well.

All three planets will fit comfortably in the viewing field of a small pair of binoculars.

Venus will still be bright by August, but both Saturn and Mars will have faded so that they will just barely reach first magnitude. That is because Saturn and Mars are getting farther away from Earth while Venus gets closer.

The planets will appear in the same positions relative to each other in the southern hemisphere, but the ecliptic will be almost vertical.