Monday night’s sky offers fascinating views of our solar system to those who know where to look.
According to Joe Rao, meteorologist and columnist for the website Space.com, five planets will be aligned across the sky for a short period of time right after the sun goes down on Monday, so get out the binoculars and prepare for a show.
Let’s start from west to east in the night sky.
Mercury and Jupiter
The show starts about 20 minutes after sunset on the western horizon where the solar system’s largest and smallest planets will be following the sun over the horizon.
Mercury and Jupiter will glow brightly on the western horizon, but spotting them will be difficult because of the bright evening twilight.
“That's where your binoculars come in,” Rao writes on Space.com. “Your best chance to pick both planets up is initially to slowly sweep low along the western horizon with the binoculars; then after you hopefully have found them, seek them out with your naked eye. Mercury will be to the right of brighter Jupiter. On the evening of March 27, they will be separated by just 1.3 degrees (just over one finger width at arm's length). If you sight them, congratulate yourself. It is no mean feat to catch two planets positioned so close to the setting sun.”
Within two days, Jupiter will disappear into the glare of the sun, while Mercury is moving away from the sun from our perspective and will become easier to see over the next couple of weeks.
Venus and Uranus
Venus is very easy to see in the evening sky and doesn’t set until around 10:15 p.m., according to Rao. The brightest planet in our sky is getting higher and brighter for the next two months.
On Monday, Venus can serve as a guidepost to spot another planet. Rao said Uranus will be about three degrees, or roughly one-third the size of a clenched fist held at arm's length, to the upper left of Venus on Monday.
“Again, use your binoculars to scan this region of the sky,” Rao said. “What you'll be looking for is a faint star, but the tipoff will be its pale greenish tint.”
Mars and the moon
The last planet on the list, Mars, is moving away and growing dimmer from our perspective after its relatively close approach last fall.
Mars is dimmer than it was in the fall, but it is still one of the brightest objects in the sky and is conspicuous because of its yellowish-orange hue.
On Monday night, Mars will be to the upper left of the waxing crescent moon high in the sky.
For more details on things to see in the night sky, go to www.space.com.
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