Venus, Saturn and Mars before breakfast

If you haven’t gotten out in the dark mornings yet this month, make it a point to do so before the moon washes it out. This morning, the skies had cleared from our overnight rain, and with a pair of cheap binoculars I paused for a couple of minutes to look at Venus, Saturn and Mars. Venus and Saturn are together in the the eastern morning sky, with our nearer neighbor blazing away at -4.45, completely outshining the larger but more distant Saturn (0.77). Mars was near but a bit south of zenith, just above Orion, but shining brightly at Mag . 0.33, sitting about 20 degrees above Betelgeuse, no slouch itself at Mag 0.6.

Of course, I also admired searing Sirius, scintillating bright red, blue, and green in the early morning air.

Planetary Waltz

At the beginning of July (at about 2:30 AM Pacific Time July 1st) the planets Saturn and Venus will begin the planetary equivalent of a Waltz turn. Venus and Saturn will be within 40 arcminutes of each other (their closest approach this orbit), and Venus will pass to the East of Saturn, and begin a stately turn to the south. Venus appears to moves across the sky much faster than Saturn (In fact, Saturn moves so slowly from our perspective that it will stay between Regulus and Spica until 2011, kind of wiggling back and forth a bit). By the last week of July, Venus will reverse course (retrograde motion) and dive into the sunset, culminating in a second pass between the two planets on August 14th that will unfortunately be hidden in the evening sunset.

Their farthest separation during this time will be on July 24th, at a bit over 9 degrees apart (today they are about 3 1/3 degrees apart).

Remember, a degree is about the width of 1 fingertip held at arm’s length. A closed fist covers about 10 degrees.

Over the next week, be sure to go outside in the evening hours shortly after sunset and look to the West, low in the sky, in order to watch this dance of the planets. While you’re out, turn around and see if you can pick out Jupiter in the East. It’s next to a bright red star, Antares, in the constellation of Scorpio.