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Planets Are Moving at the Speed of Light

Okay, well actually, despite Chris Martin, the planets don’t move that fast.  But I do want to make sure you guys know that if you’re into seeing planets, you don’t want to miss out on observing this summer.

This really is going to be the summer of planets.  We’ve got three of the five naked-eye visible planets in the night sky in the early evening right now, and as the summer goes on, we’ll add the cherry on top.  Seriously, it’s going to be awesome.

So right now, if you go outside a little while after sunset, you’ll be treated to this sight in the west.

Venus and Jupiter on June 8th at 10pm. Image courtesy Starry Night.

Venus will be getting ready to set, and Jupiter will be high in the south.  You’ll be able to see Venus well before 10pm, however…it is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon.  Look early and often toward the western sky once the Sun begins to set.  Jupiter will be dimmer, but still amazingly impressive.  But we’re not done.  When you’re finished marveling at Venus, turn around.

Saturn and Jupiter as seen on June 8th at 11pm. Image courtesy Starry Night.

Rising in the southeast will be Saturn.  Fainter than either Jupiter or Venus, it will nonetheless be a beautiful golden star-like object rising over the horizon.  The later you go outside, the higher Saturn will rise up.

And that’s just tonight.  We’ve got a whole summer ahead of us.  Remember that cherry on top I mentioned?  Well, cherries are red, right?

Four planets visible on July 24th around 9:30pm. Image courtesy Starry Night.

That’s right…Mars will join the evening crew as we move through the summer.  Mars is rising late in the evening right now…around midnight…but it will be rising earlier and earlier as we go through the summer months.  And this is a great time for Mars…we’re approaching another perihelic opposition, similar to the one we had in 2003 when Mars was as big and bright in the sky as it has ever been in human history.  This year won’t be quite that good…but it’s the best appearance of Mars since back in August of 2003, and it’s gonna be glorious.  Note that on July 24th, you’ll have the opportunity to see 5 amazing celestial objects arching across your early evening sky – starting in the southeast with Mars, then Saturn and a waxing gibbous Moon, then on to Jupiter and finally down to Venus low in the west.  It will be a wondrous sight indeed.

Oh, but it still gets better.

Want to see Mars at its absolute best this year?  Just wait a few more days.

Mars and friends around 10:30pm on July 29, the night of Mars’ closest approach to the Earth. Image courtesy Starry Night.

Mars will be at its closest and therefore its brightest on the night of July 29th.  On this night, it will be substantially brighter than Saturn, and will even rival brilliant Jupiter.  Don’t miss it.

So…wanna see even more?  No problem.  Here at the Virginia Living Museum we host a Star Party on the second Saturday of every month.  What’s a Star Party?  A chance for you to come out and check out these planets (as well as other amazing celestial objects) through one of our many telescopes…for FREE!  Yep, stargazing is free and open to all.  So come on out for one!  Our next one is June 9th (hey, that’s tomorrow!) and we’ll have 2 more over the summer – July 14th and August 11th.  We’ll observe from sunset until around 11:30pm if the weather holds, and if you come early you can even observe the Sun (safely, of course!).  Want to help us keep these events free?  Support us by coming out and seeing a planetarium or laser show on the same night.  Only $6 per show, or see any 2 for $10.  Are you a member?  Then you get in for half price!  Not a member yet?  Well, we can fix that…

I hope we’ll see you all for some awesome planet-gazing this summer!

Kelly

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