Look to the skies: The planets Saturn and Mars in “summer ballet” mid-August

From the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute:

The planet Saturn has been seen in the eastern part of Virgo the maiden and has been moving westward until it stood very close to the bright star Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. This pair has been noticeable after sunset and now is low in the southwest as the sky darkens.

However, on June 26, Saturn appeared to stop and then start moving back to the east. Since Saturn is the farthest planet from the Sun visible to the naked eye, it appears to move very slowly.

However, roaring in from the west has come the red planet Mars. Mars is much closer to the Sun than Saturn and, thus, moves much more quickly. It crossed the boundary from the constellation of Leo the lion in late June and is now speeding through Virgo to the west. It is quickly approaching both Spica and Saturn.

So, what do we have to look forward to? On the evening of August 13, the red planet will be less than two degrees north of Spica. Then, on the evening of August 17, Mars will pass just three degrees to the south of Saturn. So, for a week or so in the middle of August, watch this ballet of the planets in the southwest after evening twilight.

On the evening of August 21 a waxing crescent moon will join this trio of Mars, Saturn and Spica, forming sort of a lop-sided square in our evening sky. Realize of course, that while the planets and the Moon themselves are, in fact, moving, much of what we see is due to the fact that we are observing these celestial bodies from a moving platform, namely the surface of the Earth. So, go out and enjoy the show!

About PARI
PARI is a public not-for-profit public foundation established in 1998. Located in the Pisgah National Forest southwest of Asheville, NC, PARI offers educational programs at all levels, from K-12 through post-graduate research. For more information about PARI and its programs, visit www.pari.edu. Follow PARI on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Astronomy_PARI. “Like” PARI on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Pisgah.Astronomical.Research.Institute.


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