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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

The grand astronomical planetary parade

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Woo Hoo!! A whole week of a grand planetary parade.

Four of the five visible planets will be making an appearance in the evening sky this week. The fifth one, tiny Mercury, will be joining the crowd toward the end of the month.

Tonight, Thursday, Feb. 9, the brightest of the visible planets, Venus, will be showing us the location of one of the dimmest, gas-giant, Uranus.

Uranus has been, and will continue to be, in a good place to be seen with a little help from other astronomical objects.

Look in the west about an hour after sunset. Bright Venus will be just above the horizon and can't be missed. Use a pair of binoculars to look for the much dimmer Uranus as a small, greenish-blueish dot just slightly to the left. The pair will be in the center of the same field of view.

They will be in the same field of view until Monday, Feb. 13, so dig out those binoculars and let's have a look.

Just up and left of Venus is almost-as-bright Jupiter, the largest of the solar system's planets. If you go out at about the same time each evening you can watch Venus moving higher and closer to Jupiter.

The pair will have a close encounter of the planetary kind on Monday, March 12.

Thursday, Feb. 9, is also the date for a just-past-full moon to play tag with the third member of our planetary parade, reddish Mars.

Mars is growing brighter and rising earlier as the March 3, opposition draws nearer. On that date the red planet will be opposite the sun in the sky and at its closest point to Earth for two years.

It clears the eastern horizon by 8 p.m. MST, but will be better placed for viewing by 10 p.m.

The fourth visible planet is Saturn and it too is rising earlier each day and will be above the eastern horizon by midnight but better placed for viewing at 1 a.m. MDT.

On Sunday, Feb. 12, the moon, Saturn, and the star Spica will be in close proximity for our viewing pleasure. Spica is just left of the lunar body and Saturn further left and a little lower.

Have you noticed? The sun is setting later and the evening sky staying brighter longer. The period of daylight is growing on an average of two minutes each day. Remember back in December when it was totally dark at 4:30 p.m.?

Today the Sun will set at 5:12 p.m. MST, and it will not be dark until about 6:30 p.m. See, gaining more light each day.

SKY WATCH: Full moon was, Tuesday, February 7, fourth quarter on Tuesday, Feb. 14. This month's full moon is called the "Snow Moon."

NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering.

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