Stunning Planet Week
The sky is always stunning to look at no matter what day it is, but this week promises some pretty cool activity for stargazers. The emphasis this week is on the solar system. To begin with, the pairing of Jupiter and Venus in the west has been stunning for several days now and is approaching the two planets are approaching their closest distance. Tonight (Monday) they will be 3.1° apart (roughly two finger widths at arm’s length, your clenched fist is about 10°). The two planets will be just 3.0° apart on Tuesday night as Venus and Jupiter begin to switch orientations. This conjunction promises a stellar view for binocular viewers and some telescope viewers at lower power.
Next up is Saturn which rises just before 10pm (EDT). Always a stunning sight no matter what time of year, but Saturn’s rings are tilted just about at the optimal angle for viewing from Earth. Over the next couple months the rings will start to flatten out until they will be seen edge-on. Also, Saturn, the moon, and the star Spica will dazzle in the sky around midnight tonight and Tuesday.
Mars is currently trekking its way through the constellation Leo this month. Each day it is getting closer to Regulus, the brightest star in Leo and the foot of the lion. Mars is just past its closest distance from Earth and is quite a pleasing sight in a larger telescope at its highest point from 11pm to 1am.
Since the moon is rising late this week we have another chance to view comet Garradd as it zooms through the inner solar system. Garradd is still at magnitude 6.0-7.0 so you likely still need to drive away from the city lights a bit to see it with a telescope. The comet is currently hanging out near the bowl of Ursa Minor and λ Draconis on Friday night.