Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Earth’s Seven Sisters are out this Week

Earth’s Seven Sisters are out this Week
by Dave Adalian

All seven of Sol’s other planets are out this week, and with a little luck and patience earthbound planet hunters will be able to collect them all.

Tonight (Aug. 21, 2008) is the night to be lucky -- and careful -- to find the first target. Saturn follows the sun over the western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset, making it a difficult target for the naked eye.

Because it’s bright, Saturn should turn up in the reddened western sky glow. For safety sake, start searching for the ringed planet only after Sol’s disk has completely disappeared. This is especially true when using binoculars: Viewing the sun through optics will cause vision loss.

If Saturn won’t cooperate tonight, Friday and Saturday are also possibilities, but chances of seeing the sixth planet grow slimmer each night.

After the search for Saturn, finding Venus and Mercury will be a breeze. (Well, easier anyway, but because they’re so low the search might still require the aid of binoculars.)

The innermost planets are in close conjunction for the next few days, and can be seen together above and to the left of where the sun met the horizon at sunset. The pair may also help locate elusive Saturn: it will be between the pairing of the first and second planets and the sun.

Follow that imaginary line connecting Sol, Saturn, Mercury and Venus -- the ecliptic -- further up and to the left to find ruddy Mars. The Red Planet is now so far away it’s little more than a reddish pinpoint, but like all the planets it doesn’t twinkle. Again, binoculars will help.

King Jupiter is impossible to miss, shining bright in the south on the shoulder of Sagittarius the Archer after sundown. The only reason for binoculars here is to search for the planet’s larger moons.

Binoculars will be a must to find Neptune, the eighth planet out. Look for Neptune’s tiny blue-green disk about halfway up the sky due south at 30 minutes after midnight tonight. After Pluto’s demotion, Neptune is now the farthest planet out.

Closer in but farther out along the ecliptic at present is the seventh and final planet, Uranus. It will be due south about 2 a.m., and can be seen with the naked eye. Because Uranus is at the edge of the eye’s range, binoculars will help you locate it. A finder chart will make finding both Uranus and Neptune much easier.


This column was originally intended for publication in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta and Tulare (Calif.) Advance-Register in August 2008. For some reason that didn't happen. I don't know why. So, I wrote them another one, which is the next post after this.

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