Sky high: see it now while the moon and planets perform


Late summer, you’ll wonder what happened. The evening sky will seem empty. Not a single bright planet will be found anywhere. That’s because the heavens are out of balance, like a clothes dryer thumping in the laundry room. All the action is now. Don’t miss it.

Start with Venus, which for the next month shines at its very brightest. You can even see it in broad daylight against the blue sky if you look in the right place. If you aim binoculars its way, you’ll currently observe the famous Pleiades star cluster just beneath it. Try it. Binoculars are the ideal way to see those Seven Sisters and their blue color.

Next, do an about-face. Venus is in the northwest, so face southeast and find a bright (not brilliant) orange star. Mars! You’ll see a lovely blue star just to the right of Mars. This is Leo’s main star, Regulus. The pair’s color contrast is wonderful with just the naked eye. But as long as you have those binoculars handy, have a look and watch their colors truly pop out. Orange and blue: your school colors. (No? Well, it was worth a shot.)

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We’re not finished. On Good Friday it’s the Full Moon, but look where it’s located: It rises at sunset like all Full Moons, but as soon as it clears whatever hills or trees you have to your east, you’ll see two stars to its left. The nearest one is another blue star: the famous Spica (say SPY-ka), the brightest member of Virgo. To Spica’s left is another star of the same brightness. This is Saturn.

Saturn makes its year’s closest visit to Earth this month, so this is very much the best time to be observing it. Here, the binoculars won’t help. You need at least a 30-power view through a telescope to reveal those amazing rings. They are now better-angled than at any time in the past five years: just spectacular.

To sum up, we have Venus at its brightest, above the Pleiades. We have orange Mars meeting blue Regulus. We have the Full Moon in a conjunction with blue Spica and Saturn at its brightest of the year – all this week, right now.

Are you kidding? Hey, grab a friend or a kid or a significant someone and step out at 8:30 p.m. This is brilliant, in-your-face astronomy – no star charts needed. For the Moon/Spica/Saturn theater, you might want to wait until 9 or even 10 p.m. for them to rise higher. If it’s cloudy Friday, then the Spica/Saturn duo will float above the Moon the next night, Saturday.

Speaking of the Full Moon, this is the first since the Equinox, making it the official ignition point for Passover and Easter this weekend: Earth and the heavens, all tied together.

 

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