Morning Planets and the Crescent Moon
Last fall we had a nice gathering of four planets in the early evening sky. Now we have four planets gathering in the morning sky (but not the same four). The crescent Moon joined them this morning. I am on vacation in Florida and went out to the south side of the Sunshine Skyway to snap a some pictures. Here is the best of the bunch. It’s a big file…I uploaded it at full res (you will see why).
Venus is the brightest one beneath the moon. Jupiter is just above the horizon and fairly bright. To find Mercury, you will probably need to click the photo and view it full size. You can find Mercury between Venus and Jupiter. It’s not hard to find with the full size photo. Mars is really tricky. Use the full size photo and look just above Jupiter for a little smudge. That is Mars just barely poking through the morning twilight (I did not see it naked eye, just with the camera).
These planets will be hanging out together for most of May. Mercury and Jupiter will get a little farther away from the Sun each morning until May 7th when Mercury will turn around and start heading back toward the Sun while Jupiter continues to get higher in the sky each morning. Mars will also continue its slow climb away from the Sun. Venus is moving toward the Sun. With these movements, its clear that there will be several close encounters between planets in our morning sky in the coming weeks.
Uranus is to the upper right of Venus technically making this a five planet gathering, but that would take at least a good pair of binoculars to tease out.
Part of the problem is that the ecliptic (the plane along which the planets lie) makes a very shallow angle with the horizon this time of year in the morning sky. Therefore the planets are low in the sky even when they are relatively far away from the Sun. This low elevation makes them more difficult to observe. If you travel down to the southern hemisphere, the ecliptic makes a much steeper angle with respect to the horizon so all the planets appear higher in the sky and are easier to see. Steven Graham of Christchurch, New Zealand, took a pic of the four planets yesterday morning and posted it in the Spaceweather.com gallery. Trace a line connecting the planets and notice the difference in angles between Florida and New Zealand, the obvious result of living on a (roughly) spherical planet.
As Leondard Nimoy famous said in the Simpsons, “Ah, the cosmic ballet continues”.
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