A Darker View

Conjunctions and Occulations

Over the next few days the planet Mars will pass the bright star Antares. The two appear so similar in color and magnitude that the star’s name derives from Mars… The name Antares is from Anti-Ares or opposite of Mars. Recalling that the Greek name for the god of war Mars was Ares.

These two will appear close for several days, passing closest on the September 27th at a distance of 3.1°. Mars will be shining brightly at magnitude 0.8 while Antares will be very slightly dimmer at 1.1, almost too close to differentiate. The coloration is also quite close, a ruddy orange, making the two almost indistinguishable. Mars will be the one to the west. Both will be easily visible in the south after sunset.

Tomorrow morning the Moon and Jupiter will be close. The Moon will rise first, followed by Jupiter at 03:06 to be almost 40° above the eastern horizon at sunrise. The Moon will be about 18% illuminated and about 8° above a bright Jupiter. The next day the Moon will have moved to the other side of Jupiter but will be even closer, about 7° separation.

Back in April and May we saw Venus pass Uranus and Neptune making for badly mismatched conjunctions. This week it will be Jupiter, the only planet able to shine brightly enough to make a good pairing for Venus.

Today the pair are drawing close, currently separated by 5.5°. Close approach will occur on the 17th when the pair will rise in the dawn separated by only 35′. The closest approach will happen well after sunrise in the islands, about 18:06HST at a separation of a mere 12′, easily close enough to fit in the same telescopic field. The major challenge here is that the conjunction will occur only 17° from the Sun.

Venus will outshine Jupiter by over a magnitude, -3.9 compared to Jupiter’s -1.8 magnitude. The sizes will be comparable as well. Venus will be smaller at only 10.3″ compared to Jupiter’s 31.6″ across at the equator.

In an odd twist, this conjunction will occur on the edge of the Beehive cluster, M44. The cluster is not likely to be very visible given the advent of dawn, but it will be there.

Tomorrow morning, July 25th, will see a pretty display of planets low in the dawn. A thin crescent Moon, only 2% illuminated, will join both Mercury and Venus just before sunrise. The trio will be quite low, the Moon rising last, at 04:59, just one hour before the Sun. Mercury will be 5.5° north of the Moon shining at -1 magnitude. Venus will be highest, 9° above, shining brightly at -3.9 magnitude.

Despite the glow of dawn these three will be bright enough to be seen quite clearly against the glow, it should be a spectacular dawn.

Tomorrow morning, July 24th, will see a brilliant Venus paired with a crescent Moon. Look for the pair to rise about 04:06HST to be 23° above the horizon at sunrise. A 5% illuminated Moon will be a nice match for Venus shining brilliantly at -3.9 magnitude. Separation will be just over 4.5&deg.

Mercury has not quite slipped away and will still be visible 8° below Venus, rising about 4:44HST at 15° ahead of the Sun.

As Mercury approaches maximum elongation on July 12th it is also approaching Venus in the sky. The little planet will reach elongation and turn to dive back into the dawn before properly rendezvousing with Venus. The minimum separation will be about 6° on the morning of July 16th.

While the pair will remain well separated, it will still be a pretty pairing in the dawn that will last for over a week. Simply look below the brilliant Venus for Mercury shining near 0 magnitude, it will be quite easy to spot in the glow of dawn.

This evening a very thin crescent Moon will meet Jupiter low in the sunset glow. Only 3.4% illuminated the Moon will be 6° west of a bright Jupiter. About 16° above the horizon at sunset, the Moon will set at 20:14HST with Jupiter setting a few minutes later at 20:20HST. The two should create a striking pair in the rosy glow of dusk.

Tomorrow morning, June 24th, will see a brilliant Venus paired with a crescent Moon. Look for the pair to rise about 03:45HST to be 25° above the horizon at sunrise. A 7% illuminated Moon will be a nice match for Venus shining brilliantly at -3.9 magnitude. Separation will be just over 2.5&deg.

There will be a close approach of the Moon and Saturn tonight and tomorrow. At sunset on the 9th the pair will be separated by less than 7° and found well up in the eastern sky. As the night progresses the pair will slowly close the gap. As the pair sets around 03:30 the morning of the 10th, the separation will have been reduced to about 4°. As the two rise on the evening of the 10th they will have passed and the separation will be increasing. At sunset the pair will be 7° apart.

Viewers on the other side of our planet will be able to observe the closest approach, much less than a degree for many, an occultation if you happen to be in the right place. Sky watchers in Capetown, South Africa will see the planet disappear behind the limb of the Moon for about an hour around 19:11UT.

This evening the Moon and Jupiter will be close. The two will be visible in the sky throughout the day becoming a striking pair as the sky grows dark. The Moon will be 11% illuminated and about 6° from the bright planet at sunset.

Mercury should be visible 18° below Jupiter, a 1.3 magnitude object lower in the sunset glow.