Antimatter? The strange effect that observers have on their experiments? The non-reality of time? Mind-stretching topics are fun. But sometimes the actual sky is so compelling, we’re forced simply to focus on what’s over our heads.
The action stays glued to the morning sky. We’re talking 6 to 6:45 a.m. Normally, planet conjunctions happen for one or two days, and then the heavens move on; not now. Bright and eye-catching, these in-your-face planet configurations keep lighting up the predawn theater like a hit Broadway play.
Mercury has been putting on its best show of 2015, and this weekend marks the final curtain. For this tiny charbroiled world alone, you need a clear view nearly all the way down to the eastern horizon. If you have that, then look between 6:30 and 6:45 a.m. The lowest bright “star” is Mercury. Then you can casually mention at work that you saw the smallest planet, and watch how everyone stares and doesn’t know how to respond.
But let’s assume that you’re not perched on a ridge facing New England. Then forget Mercury and focus on the other stuff, which is getting more interesting by the day. The other three planets are all pretty high up, meaning about a third of the way up the sky: not challenging at all, unless you’re in a deep hollow or your house is surrounded by towering trees – in which case you might have to get in the car and drive a few minutes.
For the main action right now, you should look between 6 and 6:30. The planets are not particularly low. It’s no challenge.
Two luminous stars grab your attention, the brightest in the heavens. The most brilliant is our sister world, Venus, the nearest planet. The other is giant Jupiter. This weekend they have their grand conjunction. They’ll be splendidly close together Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings. Very cool and striking.
Just below them, look for a much-less-brilliant orange “star,” and this is Mars. It looks downright dim compared to those others. Mars is in the spotlight these days, thanks to the hit Matt Damon movie. And there it is in fact, rather than fiction.
This planet conjunction just won’t quit, which is very unusual. And thanks to the ever-earlier sunrises, this predawn event doesn’t mean 4 a.m., which would have been the case three months ago. Now, in late October, lots of folks are already up.
The ancient Greeks, the Maya, the desert-dwelling Arab observers all would have made this “Topic A” at the office water cooler. It would be shame not to simply look out the window, in the direction of the impending sunrise.