EYES TO THE SKY: Five planets – awe-inspiring conjunctions, comings and goings
August 22 – September 4, 2016
Mt. Washington — This evening and every evening this week and into next week, we will see planets appear in dynamic relationship to each other, their changing positions revealed from one day to the next soon after the sunset’s radiance withdraws from the western horizon. There’s a phenomenal celestial show in the west that is over before darkness falls and there are events in the south-southwest that appear as twilight deepens and are visible until about 11 p.m.
Gaze due west about 30 to 40 minutes after sunset, by 8:10 p.m. today and tomorrow, to see Jupiter, Venus and Mercury – bright, brilliant, and dim planets, respectively – form a triangle close above the horizon. Our timing has to be precise and our location afford an unobstructed view to the horizon to see all three. Binoculars will help tease out Mercury from the sunset glow, but it is most likely that the little planet’s light will fade by mid-week. Then, be there on Saturday the 27th for a must-see, rather rare, very close juxtaposition of Venus and Jupiter. When they reappear the evening of the 28th, Jupiter will be below Venus. The king of the gods is on its way out of the evening sky, soon to follow Mercury into the sunset glow, while Venus gains prominence as the Evening Star.
Observe Venus set around 8:30 p.m., earlier where forests, hills or buildings raise the horizon. In the deepening twilight, turn to the south, counterclockwise, where bright, tawny Mars shows up with pale yellow Saturn above and Antares, the red heart star of Scorpius the Scorpion, below. Tomorrow and Wednesday, the 23rd and 24th, the three are lined up near the middle of the Scorpion. The rusty planet is in conjunction with Saturn on the 24th. Each successive night, see Mars in a changed position, having moved in an easterly direction in relation to Saturn and Antares. The three form various triangular shapes until, around September 4, the threesome appears as an equilateral triangle.
Gazing back to Jupiter and Venus in early twilight on September 3, the brilliant goddess is paired with a thin crescent moon. On that day, sunset is at 7:23 p.m.; Jupiter sets at 8:05 p.m., Venus at 8:20 p.m. and the moon at 8:38 p.m.