Planets Aligning in the Sunset Sky

By: Susie77 , 12:19 AM GMT on May 23, 2013

Share this Blog
4
+

Courtesy of Science @ NASA

May 10, 2013: Sunset is a special time of day. Low-hanging clouds glow vivid red and orange as the background sky turns cobalt blue. The first stars pop out in the heavenly dome overhead, eliciting wishes from backyard sky watchers.

Video

The sunset of May 26th will be extra special. On that date, Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will gather in the fading twilight to form a bright triangle only three degrees wide.

Triple conjunctions of planets are fairly rare. The last time it happened was in May 2011, and it won't happen again until October 2015. This triple is especially good because it involves the three brightest planets in May's night sky: #1, Venus; #2, Jupiter; and #3, Mercury. The triangle will be visible even in places with heavy urban light pollution.

The best time to look is about 30 to 60 minutes after sunset. The three planets will be hugging the horizon, so a clear view of the western sky is essential.

Let Venus be your guide. It pops out of the fading twilight long before the others. As soon as you locate Venus, look in that direction using binoculars. If your binoculars are typical, all three planets will fit in the eyepiece simultaneously. As the twilight continues to fade, set the optics aside; eventually the triangle will become visible to the naked eye.

You don't have to wait until May 26th to enjoy the show, however. The planets start gathering weeks earlier. Dates of special interest include:

May 11th through 13th, when the crescent Moon, Venus, and Jupiter form a long diagonal line jutting upward from the sunset;

May 23rd, when Jupiter and Venus converge to less than 5 degrees apart, close enough for simultaneous binocular viewing;

May 24th, when Mercury passes Venus less than 2 degrees away, giving shape to the triangle that reaches maximum compactness two nights later on May 26th.

The triangle begins to disperse on May 27th, but even then the show is not over. On May 28th, Venus passes Jupiter at a distance of 1 degree, forming a truly spectacular pair.

From beginning to end, the three naked-eye planets will be close enough to fit inside the field of ordinary binoculars from May 23rd until early June. May 26th is just the best among many very good nights.

Step outside, face west, and observe the planets. It's a beautiful way to end the day.

Credits:

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 4 - 1

Page: 1 — Blog Index

4. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
6:28 PM GMT on June 07, 2013
Susie77 has created a new entry.
3. Susie77
1:36 PM GMT on May 24, 2013
Thanks for these stories, Patrap.
Member Since: April 14, 2002 Posts: 624 Comments: 553
2. Patrap
3:57 AM GMT on May 23, 2013


Titan May Be Headed Toward Wild Weather as its Seasons Begin to Change

Saturn’s moon Titan, long observed by the spacecraft Cassini, might be headed toward some wild weather during its spring and summer based on two new models produced by NASA scientists.
As the seasons change in Titan’s northern hemisphere, a process that takes seven years, waves could start to ripple across the moon’s hydrocarbon seas just as hurricanes begin to swirl over the same region.
The model that attempts to predict the pattern of waves comes as scientists, confused as to why they hadn’t observed any driven by wind on the moon’s sprawling hydrocarbon seas and lakes, improved upon previous models by simultaneously taking into account Titan’s gravity, the viscosity and surface tension of the liquid in the lakes and the air-to-liquid density ratio.

“We now know that the wind speeds predicted during the times Cassini has observed Titan have been below the threshold necessary to generate waves," Alex Hayes, a member of Cassini’s radar team, said in a press release. "What is exciting, however, is that the wind speeds predicted during northern spring and summer approach those necessary to generate wind waves in liquid ethane and/or methane. It may soon be possible to catch a wave in one of the solar system’s most exotic locations.”
The other model, which has to do with hurricanes, predicts that the warming of the northern hemisphere could bring on the storms also known as tropical cyclones, similar to those on Earth that gain their energy from the build-up of heat from seawater evaporation.
However, scientists are wary of promising anything yet.
"For these hurricanes to develop at Titan, there needs to be the right mix of hydrocarbons in these seas, and we still don't know their exact composition," Tetsuya Tokano, who led the creation of the model, said. "If we see hurricanes, that would be one good indicator that there is enough methane in these lakes to support this kind of activity. So far, scientists haven't yet been able to detect methane directly."
As Scott Edington, Cassini's deput proncet scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, “If you think being a weather forecaster on Earth is difficult, it can be even more challenging at Titan. We know there are weather processes similar to Earth’s at work on this strange world, but differences arise due to the presence of unfamiliar liquids like methane.”
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128657
1. Patrap
3:57 AM GMT on May 23, 2013
Planets Dancing in the Twilight

Get ready to watch the west at the end of this month for a fantastic celestial show! This month you will see Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury appear above the horizon as a bright trio.

At the beginning of May you will not be able to see Mercury or Venus. Jupiter still reigns fairly high above the horizon after sunset. However, as the end of the month approaches you will see Venus pop up, Jupiter fall down, and Mercury, being true to its namesake, speeding up out of the West and handily bypassing Venus.

This is a wonderful sight to behold, and one in which you won't need anything but your own eyes. Of course, you can use binoculars or a telescope to catch a few details. The moons of Jupiter may look to almost touch Venus as they close in on each other; the disc of Mercury will start to changes its phase from a tiny full disc to a little more than two thirds full. Venus will remain almost fully lit during the trio, but keep your eyes peeled as both it and Mercury rise higher in June; they are the only two planets we see from Earth that have phases that change like our Moon.

The beauty doesn't end after these planets set in the twilight. Saturn is rising up early in the east, and many other gorgeous objects are always up there waiting for your eyes to spy on their secrets. You can find star parties held by astronomy clubs in your area by using the apps below or use the website!

Join our vibrant stargazing community!
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128657

Viewing: 4 - 1

Page: 1 — Blog Index

Top of Page

About Susie77

Sometimes I complain about the earthly weather, but mostly I like to post about astronomy and space events. Hope you enjoy the articles.

Local Weather

Mostly Cloudy
65 °F
Mostly Cloudy