BAN #89: See Venus and Saturn together!

February 18, 2019 Issue #89

Subscribers make my heart go from waxing gibbous to full.

What’s Up?

Look up! There’s stuff to see in the sky!

If you’re an early riser, this week is kind to you: Saturn and Venus are dancing next to each other in the morning sky all week — but earlier this week is better.

If you go out before sunrise and look to the southeast, Venus will be hard to miss. It’s the third brightest natural object in the sky (after the Sun and Moon) and is astonishingly bright (lots of people mistake it for an airplane or a UFO the first time they see it). Venus rises around 4:30 a.m., and by 6:00 a.m. the Sun will be close enough to rising that seeing it will be tougher.

[Venus and Saturn together in the southeast sky, as seen on Tuesday Feb. 18, 2019 at about 5:30 a.m. from a latitude of 40°. Credit: Sky Safari]

Saturn is fainter than Venus but still easy to spot to the right of Venus (for northern hemisphere observers; if you’re south of the equator it’ll be on the left). They’re actually closest together on Monday afternoon, separated by about 1.5° (three times the width of the full Moon). Every day Venus moves to the left (closer to the Sun and the horizon), but they’ll be close enough together for days to make for a very pretty sight.

Saturn appears fairly stationary even as Venus zooms past it. The planets orbit the Sun, so we see their positions change against the background stars. On top of that, the Earth is circling the Sun as well, so the motions of all this can be a bit confusing. But in general, the farther a planet is from the Sun, the slower it appears to move in the sky. Venus is about 150 million km away from us, and Saturn 1.6 billion — more than 10 times more distant. So Venus seems to zip across the sky day after day, while Saturn is more stately.

If you have binoculars you might be able to just make out that Saturn isn’t exactly round, due to its rings. A small telescope will show the rings and even a moon or two. Venus is a waxing gibbous shape right now; as seen from Earth it’s going around the curve of its orbit heading toward the other side of the Sun. Every day it’ll appear a teeny bit smaller and a teeny bit more full.

By the way, I heard about this event (called a conjunction) because the folks at Celestron telescopes put out a list of astronomical highlights to watch for in 2019 (they also have it downloadable as a PDF). I partner with them for some things; they sponsor my science vacation company, for example, and have sent me various pieces of equipment to test out and have fun with. I like their stuff, so sometimes I’ll promote them and mention them here. So just so’s you know.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[Illustration of a cosmic train wreck: The Milky Way/Andromeda galaxy collision, four billion years from now. Credit: NASA, ESA, Z. Levay and R. van der Marel (STScI), T. Hallas, and A. Mellinger]

Monday Feb. 11, 2019: Breathe easy: You have an extra 600 million years before Andromeda crashes into us

Tuesday Feb. 12, 2019: "And what is this newfound love for the ice giants?"

Wednesday Feb. 13, 2019: Kepler 107c: A massive collision leaves behind a superdense exoplanet

Thursday Feb. 14, 2019: Opportunity lost... but more will arise

Friday Feb. 15, 2019: Gorgeousness in death

Et alia

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