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Seeing Starsmoonimage

Early risers like me have been aware of this for a while, but now it’s making the news. Since last summer, Venus, Jupiter and Mars have been visible in the early morning sky. Venus and Jupiter are the brightest of the visible planets. Venus is larger because it is closer to the earth. It shines as a bright white star.

Jupiter appears as a bright star, but not as big as Venus. For most of the summer, however, it was close to Venus, making it easier to spot. Mars is smaller, but distinguished by its slightly reddish glow. For several months it has been close to Jupiter and Venus, the three of them lining up above the horizon in the hours before sunrise. This light show became particularly dramatic when the Moon crossed their path in the early morning sky.

Saturn joined the show just a few weeks ago. It is not as big or bright as Jupiter and Venus, but it can be easily spotted if you follow the line of the ecliptic laid out by the other planets (which should be to the southern sky if you live in the Northern hemisphere).

Now Mercury has joined the procession. Typically, it is hard to see Mercury because it orbits so close to the Sun, but at the present time the tiny planet is at its maximum distance from the Sun and rises before it in the early morning. This means that we can see it as a tiny star just before dawn. That in itself is remarkable. Seeing Mercury along with all of the other visible planets is a rare and amazing treat.

But there’s more. After Jan. 24, the Moon will also be visible in the night sky. The lineup will be the Moon, low on the western horizon, Jupiter higher to the west, Mars more or less directly overhead, and then Venus, Saturn and Mercury near the eastern horizon.

In my neck of the woods we don’t get too many clear nights this time of year, but I will certainly be looking for one so that I can take advantage of this unique opportunity. I recommend the all of you do the same. Just imagine you’re one of those ancient Babylonian astrologers, measuring distances between planets with the width of your thumb and getting lost in the magic of the stars.

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