Moon and Saturn

StarDate: May 3, 2009

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The Moon and the planet Saturn look down from on-high at nightfall this evening. From here in the United States, they're due south, about two-thirds of the way up the sky. Saturn looks like a bright star, and is just a few degrees from the Moon.

Although they appear close together in the sky, the Moon and Saturn are actually a long way apart.

The Moon is our closest neighbor in the universe -- it's just a quarter of a million miles away. By astronomical standards, that's practically nothing. But by human standards, it's a long haul. If you headed toward the Moon tonight, moving at a zippy highway speed of 75 miles an hour, you wouldn't get there until the middle of September -- and that's if you didn't make any stops along the way.

Saturn looks a lot smaller than the Moon, but only because it's more than 3,000 times farther. If you decided to continue on to Saturn after making a pitstop at the Moon, it would take you another 12 centuries to arrive.

Saturn is so far that it's a long haul even for a beam of light or a radio signal -- more than an hour. So when you look at Saturn tonight, you're seeing the giant planet as it looked more than an hour earlier.

Look for Saturn to the upper left of the Moon as night falls this evening, and a little above the Moon as they set in the wee hours of the morning. Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, is close by. Well, it looks close -- but that's a story for another day.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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