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Last updateMon, 23 Mar 2020 12pm

Astronomy

27 Feb 2020
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In the western sky after sunset, Venus in late March attains its highest position at dusk and its longest duration of visibility in a dark sky for 2020. All three bright outer planets—Mars, Jupiter and Saturn—cluster in the southeast before dawn. Don’t miss their rare, once-in-20-years compact gathering from March 18-31. In mid-March, Mercury reaches its highest position during a poor morning twilight appearance, very low in the east-southeast. Binoculars will help you find the innermost planet well to lower left of the outer-planet threesome. In the March evening sky, the huge Winter Hexagon of bright stars is in fine view, with Sirius, the brightest star, crossing through the south, and Capella, its second-brightest member, passing north of overhead. In clockwise order, locate Sirius, Procyon, Pollux-Castor, Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel and back to Sirius. Orion’s shoulder—red supergiant and future supernova Betelgeuse, inside the hexagon—is still uncharacteristically faint at this writing (matching…
30 Jan 2020
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In the western evening sky, Mercury reaches one of its highest positions at dusk for 2020. In the predawn darkness of Feb. 18, the moon covers and uncovers Mars. Meanwhile, all three bright outer planets—bright Jupiter, with Mars to its upper right, and Saturn to its lower left—are gradually coming together in the southeast before dawn, until their rare, once-in-20-years compact gathering in late March! You won’t fail to notice brilliant Venus well up in the west-southwest to west at dusk. Mercury makes an appearance to its lower right. Mercury shines at magnitude -1 on Feb. 1, fading to magnitude 0 on Feb. 13, and magnitude +1 by Feb. 17; it then dims rapidly and drops into bright twilight within a few days. Mercury lingers 24 degrees from Venus Feb. 4-11. The revolution of the planets around the sun is counterclockwise, as viewed from above the northern side of the…
25 Dec 2019
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Venus climbs higher above the setting sun week by week, and late in January sets more than three hours after sunset. Mercury, after passing the far side of the sun on Jan. 10, emerges into the west-southwest evening twilight sky to the lower right of Venus by the last week of month. Mars, very slowly brightening, appears in the southeast morning sky. Jupiter emerges into the southeast morning sky to the lower left of Mars by mid-January, followed by Saturn in early February. By modeling the solar system on orbit charts, or—here’s a weird party idea—asking friends to act out the motions of the planets, you can see why, when an outer planet such as Mars, Jupiter or Saturn is behind the sun, it is transitioning from the evening sky to the morning sky; and why, when either inner planet, Mercury or Venus, is behind the sun, it is transitioning…

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