Monday, June 25, 2007

Summer of the Planets Continues

Summer of the Planets Continues
by Dave Adalian

The brightest of the planets will meet the most beautiful of the planets in the west this weekend.

Since the start of the year, dazzling Venus has been hanging in the western sky after sunset. Long night after long night, the evening star grew brighter and higher in the sky until it reached its peak in the much shorter nighttimes earlier this month.

Now, the goddess of love has begun her decent back into the overbearing glare of the sun, but before she fades away she’ll be visited by another of the planets, the one considered by many as the Solar System’s loveliest.

Six months ago, when Venus was making her first tentative appearance as daylight faded in the west, Saturn was becoming prominent in the east. As the months passed, nightfall found Saturn further west each night until it was hanging low in the western sky at sunset.

While Saturn was creeping across the celestial sphere, Venus waited patiently. The two will finally meet this weekend.

When the sun goes down tonight, Venus will be where it has been all year, following the sun as it sets in the west. About an hour after sundown, Venus will be unmistakable as the brightest thing in the western sky. Above and to its left you’ll find a much dimmer Saturn.

Though Saturn, at 75,000 miles in diameter, is much larger than 8,000-mile-wide Venus, Venus is much closer to Earth, a mere 50 million miles away compared to a whopping 925 million miles for the more distant ringed planet.

Tonight, the two planets will be less than 2 degrees apart, about twice the width of the tip of your little finger held at arm’s length or about four times the width of a full moon.

By Friday night, the pair will have closed to just 1 degree, close enough you will be able to hide both of these worlds behind your little finger. Fittingly, on Saturday, Saturn’s day, the two will be at their closest, about three-quarters of a degree apart.

The two remain less than a degree apart as Saturn slips by on Sunday, then they’ll be just more than a degree apart when Monday comes to a close.

Keep watching the pair as the grow apart and on July 16 you’ll be rewarded with the spectacular grouping of Venus, Saturn, the moon and the bright star Regulus.


This column appeared originally in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta and Tulare (Calif.) Advance-Register on June 28, 2007.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

TAA July Meeting

At the TAA business meeting in June, it was decided to hold monthly meetings to conduct club business and discuss the latest developments in astronomy. The July meeting, open to all interested persons, will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 5. The location will be announced.