Three degrees of separation
While this winter has been a total let-down as far as any kind of abundance of clear skies has been concerned, there is some good naked-eye planet observing to be had right now. Fortunately, looking at unmagnified bright planets doesn’t require especially ideal conditions, or even much knowledge of the night sky. You look at the bright stuff, even from within the limits of a large city, and see something special. It’s pretty cool.
The thing that is standing out right now is Venus and Jupiter only about three degrees apart in the night sky, from our perspective anyway. As far as bight planets go, Jupiter is second only to Venus and they’re the second and third brightest objects in the night sky, so this is pretty obvious.
Alan Dyer of (amazingsky.net) took a great photo of this last night.
Additionally, both Mars and Mercury are visible, though Mercury is going to be gone pretty soon. A few days ago, Mars was at Perigee with Earth (Perigee = as close as it gets) and is easily visible as a conspicuously red dot. In New England, Mercury only gets about five degrees above the horizon and we have a lot of trees and hills, so spotting it can require a good vantage point. Don’t feel too bad if you miss it this time around, it’ll be back in a few months. Mercury is pretty weird and its year is only about 88 Earth days long, while its day (the time it takes to make a full rotation on its axis) is about TWICE that. So, one Mercury day takes two Mercury years. Like I said, weird.
I always imagine Jack Horkheimer smiling that Jack Horkheimer smile when I talk about naked-eye observing, but there’s something truly excellent about seeing a point of light in the sky and knowing what it is. Even if you don’t know what they are, yet, you should “keep looking up” anyway. Maybe you’ll see something that will make you want to learn more.