Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science
Tonight, you have another planet-packed evening in store, with a couple of brilliant beacons to point the way. Dazzling Venus is visible in the west as evening falls, and the first-quarter moon shines in the southwest as seen from the northern hemisphere.
The brightest “star” near the half-lit moon is Saturn. Thanks to its majestic system of rings, it has become an icon of “outer space” and staple of science-fiction imagery. However, for a satisfying view of the rings, you do not need to be right next to it, as NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is. You just need the most modest of telescopes. Aim, focus, and behold! Although the rings are still a little thin now – they were perfectly edge-on last year – they will be opening wider over the next few years.
Between Saturn and Venus, about a Big-Dipper-length west of the moon lies ruddy Mars. Night to night, as the moon moves off to the east, waxing toward full phase, Mars and Saturn gradually sink toward the horizon. However, thanks to the perspective afforded by our mutual orbits around the sun, Mars will lag behind the westerly plunge of the constellations, allowing Saturn to catch up. The red planet will rendezvous with the ringed planet at the end of July.
Written by Stuart Goldman