Moon, Mars, and Saturn
If you like to get dirty, then we've got three worlds you might want to visit. You can get a peek at all three of them early this evening. They're low in the west as darkness starts to fall.
The most obvious member of the trio is the Moon. Its surface is coated with a powdery dust that sticks to everything. The dust formed as tiny meteoroids pounded the surface, pulverizing volcanic rocks. The dust may become electrically charged, and occasionally levitate above the surface like a spray of dandelion petals.
Look to the right of the Moon for the planet Mars, which looks like an orange star.
Dust coats the surface of Mars, too, along with grains of sand that can form giant dunes. Strong winds push the dunes across the surface. They also sweep particles into the sky, giving it a pink or orange color. And vortexes of wind can create mile-high dust devils that spin across the landscape.
The planet Saturn is well to the lower right of Mars, just barely above the horizon.
Saturn doesn't have a solid surface, but its big moon Titan does. Sand dunes as tall as 30-story buildings completely encircle its middle. They're made of frozen hydrocarbons that start out as tiny droplets in the atmosphere. The droplets come together and partially melt, so they stick together, building up sand grains that fall to the surface.
So if you ever visit any of these dirty worlds, be sure to take along a good broom.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.