Well, actually, it’s too early.
Sometimes the best observing is done way earlier in the morning than most astronomers would like to be awake. Unless we’ve stayed up all night…we have been known to do that.
If you’re an early (and I do mean early!) morning person, you’ve got a chance to see a most wonderful sight in the pre-dawn southeastern sky. A fabulous conjunction is taking place right now, and believe me, it’s worth getting outside at 5:00am (!) to see it.
A conjunction is an astronomical term for two sky objects appearing very close together in the sky from our perspective here on Earth. Remember – space is really big, and most of the time, when we see two sky objects appear to be close, they are actually nowhere near each other. But the vast distances involved make the sky look flat to us, and that means it’s sometimes hard for us to tell what things really are close together, and what things are just on the same line of sight from Earth. Constellations work the same way – the stars we call “Orion the Hunter” are not anywhere near each other. If we could move to a very different position in space, the stars of Orion would have a completely different configuration.
The objects in conjunction early in the morning right now are planets – specifically Mars and Saturn. They make a beautiful pair – Mars is a dull orange and Saturn glows a golden yellow. They are close together now, but will slowly drift apart over the next coming days. You really do want to get outside in the next day or two to see this magnificent sight.
Even after the conjunction ends…keep your eyes on Mars. It’s coming towards us right now, and it will get steadily brighter and more impressive over the next couple of months. In late July, Mars will make a wonderfully close approach to the Earth and the view will be spectacular all night long. But don’t worry – Mars can never be as big as the Full Moon in the sky, for which we should all be grateful, as that would be the end of all life on Earth.
So I guess when you think about it, it’s not too late at all. We’re right on time to see a great view of Mars all summer long.
Carpe Noctem! (Sieze the night!)