Planet Hunting

Astronomy is one of my hobbies. I’m not too serious about it, as I don’t have log books and such to write down my observations, like the serious folk do, and I’m not systematic about it in any way. I do have an 8-inch Newtonian reflector, though, that I love looking through. (Surely there is a joke there.)

My point is that I keep an eye on the sky nearly all the time. Last night, we were outside playing frisbee. As the sun went down, I remembered that Venus, Mercury, and Mars were together in the sky low on the horizon. Since we’ve got a lot of trees in our neighborhood, we (me, my daughter Alex, and her friend Mattie) hopped in the truck and headed to the fields where we can see both horizons (a five minute ride).

We were semi-successful – we found Venus easily enough, but were unable to spot Mars and Mercury. Part of the problem is that we are surrounded by mountains here. These planets are low on the horizon right now, so by the time the sky gets dark enough for Mars and Mercury to be visible, they were behind the hills. Another part of the problem is that we had some clouds on the horizon. Today is looking clear, so I’ll try again tonight.

For anyone else who wants to try, go outside tonight at sunset. Find a place where you’ve got a good look at the horizon due west. The sky map above shows you the position of the planets relative to the moon, which will be a tiny sliver. You’ll see Venus first, a bright white point of light, a little above and to the right of the moon. Then, be patient. As it gets darker, you should see Mars and Mercury, both a little left of Venus and closer to the horizon, both red in the sky.

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