Spring was packed with lot of stargazing events and news about Mars, as the planet was just 47 million miles away, the nearest it has been to our planet since 2005. The planet’s different reddish hue in the early-evening low-southeastern sky made it easily visible.In that part of the sky, Mars is the brightest object, and presently, the second brightest star-like object in the sky. In the southwestern evening sky, it’s just Jupiter that outshines Mars, that too slightly.
But now there is one more planet that can be easily witnessed in the evening sky. Our solar system’s ringed gas giant Saturn, which is rising in the low-southeastern sky, less than 18 degrees or nearly two fist-widths to Mars’ lower left, becoming the next brightest object in that portion of the sky. Saturn is the most breathtaking planet that can be seen using a telescope.
For this year, Earth and Saturn are still at nearly their closest approach to one another, called opposition. This happens when the Earth in its orbit of the sun is present in a line between Saturn and the sun.
In the case of Saturn, opposition can be enjoyed nearly every 12½ months. The planet orbits the sun quite slowly in comparison to Earth, just once in every 29 years. Earth takes 365 days to orbit the sun, in this much time, Saturn progresses just about 1/29th of its orbit. This is the reason why our planet takes some time in catching up and come in a line with Saturn.
Presently, Saturn is ‘close’ to Earth by being at just nearly 837 million miles away. In the apt conditions, stargazers must be able to witness the separation between the planet and its striking ring system. They may also come across a few of Saturn’s moons, which look like small stars.
According to a report in National Geographic by Andrew Fazekas, “The cosmic pairing high in the southern sky will appear particularly dramatic for North American viewers, since the two objects will be separated by only four degrees—less than the width of three fingers held at arm’s length.”
About 45 minutes before your local sunrise on June 15, find an observing location that has a clear line of sight and look for a faint naked-eye star in the brightening glow enveloping the eastern horizon. The innermost planet will be only about six degrees above the horizon for most mid-northern latitude observers, so a pair of binoculars will really help to initially catch a glimpse before viewing it with the unaided eye.
It was only a few weeks ago that the red planet reached its biggest and brightest for 2016, and with Mars still being particularly close to our planet, at only 48.5 million miles (78 million kilometers) away, even small backyard telescopes using high magnification should be able to resolve the planet’s polar caps and other surface features.
“During the past week, the waxing moon has completed a little more than one-quarter of its journey around Earth. Our closest celestial neighbor is now positioned to pass Mars and Saturn this week as it travels through Virgo, Libra and Scorpius before becoming full on June 20,” according to a news report published by Post Gazette.
The 10-day-old waxing gibbous moon can be found 3 degrees above Virgo’s brightest star Spica after sunset tonight, high in the southern sky. By Thursday evening, the gibbous moon will have traveled about 25 degrees to the east along the ecliptic and sit about 7 degrees above Mars. By Saturday evening, the gibbous moon will have moved another 20 degrees east along the ecliptic and sit within 2 degrees of Saturn and 8 degrees to the upper left of Scorpius’ bright red star Antares.
A report published in Morning News USA said, “Mercury will also shine enough to be observable almost 45 minutes before the local sunrise on June 15. The closest planet to the sun will be visible in the eastern horizon and positioned only six degrees above the horizon for the mid northern latitude observers. Space.com recommends using a pair of binoculars to view the planet before seeing it with the naked eye.”
A few weeks ago, Mars was its brightest and largest for this year. As previously reported by Morning News USA, on May 30 the red planet was as close as 46.8 miles away from Earth; it was the closest the two planets had come in the last 11 years. In 2018, this distance will further reduce with the two planets being only 36 million miles from each other.
While SpaceX chief Elon Musk is planning to launch an unmanned cargo spaceship on the red planet in 2018, a human mission on the planet according to a broad proposal that he announced could be made possible by 2025.