Join us Feb. 9-11 before dawn for views of Moon and three planets
During 80 days from May 8 to July 26, 2018, our home planet Earth will overtake our solar system’s three bright outer planets, in chronological order, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. Through all of February, the three bodies span just 44° in the south to southeast sky as morning twilight begins, and the Moon appears within the gathering this weekend. To celebrate the occasion, members of the Astronomical Society of the Desert are offering three predawn sky-watching sessions.
The sessions will be held on Friday through Sunday mornings, Feb. 9-11, from 5:15 a.m. until 6:00 a.m. The viewing site is in Palm Springs, on the pedestrian bridge crossing over Tahquitz Creek, at Camino Real between North and South Riverside Drives. The bridge is three blocks north of Cahuilla Elementary School. Parking is available on Camino Real, both north and south of the bridge.
The predawn sky watch will include a tour of constellations visible on evenings in early summer, including Arcturus, Spica, and the Summer Triangle; close-up telescopic views of the Moon; of Jupiter and its four largest moons, discovered by Galileo; and the rings of Saturn, now tipped into our view at nearly the greatest angle possible.
If the sky is clear, we’ll be there, with our telescopes. We hope you will join us! If you can’t, then watch on your own around 5:30 a.m. for the following events:
Wed. Feb. 7: Jupiter 5° lower left of Last Quarter Moon, half full and 90° or a quarter-circle west of Sun. Mars appears within 6° of Antares, “rival of Mars” and heart of the Scorpion, for ten mornings, Feb. 7-16. Compare them in color and brightness. At the red planet’s closest approach to Earth in late July 2018, Mars will outshine Jupiter!
Thurs. Feb. 8: Jupiter within 9° right of fat crescent Moon. Mars within 9° to Moon’s lower left. Antares 5.5° below Mars.
Fri. Feb. 9: Mars 5° lower right of Moon. Antares 9° lower right of Moon and 5.3° lower right of Mars. Saturn within 24° lower left of Moon. Jupiter 20° to Moon’s upper right.
Sat. Feb. 10: Visualize our dynamic solar system as you observe the planets in the morning sky. Today, Jupiter lies directly ahead of Spaceship Earth in our orbital motion around the Sun. No worry, though! We won’t leave our comfortable, nearly circular orbit around the Sun to collide with Jupiter! Instead, we’ll curve around the Sun to pass between Jupiter and Sun in early May, and that planet will appear at opposition, 180° from the Sun. We’ll similarly overtake Saturn in late June, and Mars in late July, each taking its own turn at opposition and all-night visibility, from dusk until dawn.
Sunday, Feb. 11: Saturn within 2° lower right of a striking lunar crescent with earthshine illuminating Moon’s dark (non-sunlit) side. Mars-Antares, now 26°-27° to Moon’s upper right, appear closest together, just 5.1° apart this morning and tomorrow. Mars, moving 0.6° east daily against background stars, will appear midway between Jupiter and Saturn, 22° from each, on Feb. 19.
Stay tuned for new events.