After The Dusk Settles

Aug 1, 2016

planets and stars align...
Credit earthsky.org

This week Hal tells us about a stellar planetary conjunction in our early evening sky.

August 2016 is shaping up to be a pretty interesting month for people who like looking up. A number of unusual and lovely things are happening up there, and the warm days and nights will hopefully cooperate in letting you go outside and take a peek. 

The month begins with the near – straight line of four bright things in the western sky near dusk. You will need a fairly unobstructed view of the western horizon to see all four. If you live at the base of Pikes Peak, you’ll just have to take my word for it

The top left, and second brightest object, is the super planet Jupiter. So big it would hold over 1000 Earths, Jupiter is nearly 400 million miles away from us right now.

The next bright object down is the planet Mercury. The innermost of all the planets in our solar system, Mercury is very difficult to see because it hugs so closely to the Sun. Right now it’s about as far away from the Sun as it gets, so this is the best time to hunt for it, but it’s not easy. Mercury is about 57 million miles from us now.

The third object down is the only one on this list that is not a planet, the remarkable star Regulus. Not surprisingly, Regulus is a wee bit farther away than the planets. Astronomers calculate Regulus is about 77 light years, or about 450 trillion miles away.

The last object on the lower right of this near – straight line is the planet Venus. The third brightest object in the sky, after only the Sun and the Moon, Venus is covered in dense clouds that reflect a lot of the sunlight striking the planet back into space, hence making it very bright. At only 25 million miles from Earth, Venus is the closest of the objects in this list. But I don’t recommend vacationing there. With a temperature of about 900°F and rainstorms made of boiling hydrochloric acid, I recommend against the timeshare.

If you’d like to take a closer look at the planets, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!