Mercury Venus and Saturn

By David Baumgartner
It is always interesting to see what the planets are up to each
month. Sometimes one of them will get so close to the Moon that it
even disappears behind it in what’s called an occultation.
By David Baumgartner

It is always interesting to see what the planets are up to each month. Sometimes one of them will get so close to the Moon that it even disappears behind it in what’s called an occultation.

Other times one will hug up to a distant heavenly body making it look seemingly just a short distance away from each other, when it is really millions of light years away. And sometimes the planets, which is a Greek word for “wanderers,” tries to play bumper ball with other planets. And this month that is just what we have going on.

Now get this: At the end of June a spectacular grouping of Venus, Saturn and Mercury are visible low in the west just after the Sun goes down. At the beginning of the month you can see Saturn settling to the upper left of Venus. They actually form a crooked line with the two brightest stars in the constellation Gemini the Twins, Castor and Pollux.

But as time goes on, Saturn and the two stars appear just below Venus. By mid-month, Mercury comes along and joins the gathering. By June 20, Venus is only 5.5 degrees slightly lower right of Saturn, and 5.5 degrees lower left of Pollux, with Mercury just 2.5 degrees slightly lower right of Venus.

Then from June 24 to 26, Saturn moves down past Venus and Mercury and then all three nights the three planets are within 2 degrees of each other. All three of the planets will fit behind your little finger held out at arm’s length. From June 24 to July 1, Venus and Mercury are less than 1 degree apart.

So there, did you get all that? I won’t blame you if you didn’t. Probably the best way to understand it is to get out there at twilight and follow the confusion for yourself and see if the last paragraph is even close. What has always amazed me is how in the dickens do the astronomers predict these groupings so precisely?

I guess that is why I sell real estate and they are astronomers. I always appreciate anyone who can do a job well, and these guys certainly do theirs well.

While you are out there, don’t forget the brightest beacon, Jupiter, shining in the south to southwest as dusk progresses. Jupiter’s diameter is greater than that of Saturn, Venus and Mercury combined this month.

Mars is now becoming a very impressive sight this month. With larger telescopes you can start to pick up some surface features. Mars doesn’t come up until well after midnight, and viewing is best when the planet is high in the sky near dawn.

It is always sad to see on weekends a lonely telescope sitting out on the front lawn at someone’s yard sale. People lose interest so they sell the scope for hardly anything.

But that can be good news for someone just getting into astronomy. So if that interest is there for you, or someone in your family, why not adopt that scope and give it a new and rejuvenated life? Who knows, it might be the start of something special for you and your family.

Clear skies.

David Baumgartner is in local real estate and is an avid amateur astronomer. His Sky Watch column appears monthly.

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