Up for a challenge? Planetary action is certainly heating up this summer: Jupiter passed opposition last month, Saturn does so in June, and Mars reaches favorable viewing next month. And with dazzling Venus in the west and Mercury to joining it starting in late June, we’ll soon have all of the naked eye classical planets in the evening sky.
Now, I want to turn your attention towards a potential naked eye object, you’ve probably never seen: asteroid 4 Vesta.
We’re in the midst of a parade of planets crossing the evening sky. Jupiter reached opposition on May 9th, and sits high to the east at dusk. Mars heads towards a fine opposition on July 27th, nearly as favorable as the historic opposition of 2003. And Venus rules the dusk sky in the west after the setting Sun for most of 2018.
June is Saturn’s turn, as the planet reaches opposition this year on June 27th, rising opposite to the setting Sun at dusk.
Incoming: The Earth-Moon system has company tonight.
The Asteroid: Near Earth Asteroid 2010 WC9 is back. Discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey outside Tucson, Arizona on November 30th, 2010, 2010 WC9 was lost after a brief 10 day observation window, and was not recovered until earlier this month. About 71 meters in size, 2010 WC9 is one of the largest asteroids to pass us closer than the Earth-Moon distance.
It’s a question I’ve fielded lots this weekend leading up to last night’s April Pink Full Moon, and one I expect we’ll get again tonight: “What’s that bright star near the Moon?”
That bright “star” is actually a planet, the king of them all as far as our Solar System is concerned: Jupiter. May also ushers in Jupiter observing season, as the planet reaches opposition on May 9th, rising in the east opposite to the setting Sun to the west. Jupiter now joins Venus in the dusk sky, ending the planetary drought plaguing many an evening star party.
Are you keeping a eye on Jupiter? The King of the Planets, Jove presents a swirling upper atmosphere full of action, a worthy object of telescopic study as it heads towards another fine opposition on May 9th, 2018.
Now, an interesting international study out of the School of Engineering in Bilbao, Spain, the Astronomical Society of France,the Meath Astronomical Group in Dublin Ireland, the Astronomical Society of Australia, and the Esteve Duran Observatory in Spain gives us a fascinating and encouraging possibly, and another reason to keep a sharp eye on old Jove: Jupiter may just get smacked with asteroids on a ore regular basis than previously thought.
Where have all the planets gone? The end of February 2018 sees the three naked eye outer planets – Mars, Jupiter and Saturn– hiding in the dawn. It takes an extra effort to brave the chill of a February morning, for sure. The good news is, the two inner planets – Mercury and Venus – begin favorable dusk apparitions this week, putting on a fine sunset showing in March.