Passel of Planets

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Passel of Planets

A passel of planets will cap off this New Year’s Day. All five planets that are visible to the unaided eye will be in view shortly after sunset. A sixth planet is up there as well, but you need binoculars or a telescope to pick it out. But its location is easy to spot because it’s next to the Moon.

As twilight begins to fade, look for two of the planets low in the southwest. Venus is the “evening star,” with much fainter Mercury close to its lower right. You need a clear horizon to spot them, and binoculars will help you pick out Mercury.

Slide to the upper left and you’ll come to Saturn, the second-largest planet in the solar system. Then keep going and you’ll come to the largest planet, Jupiter. It’s the brightest object in the night after the Moon and Venus, so there’s no mistaking it.

And high in the east you’ll find bright orange Mars.

The Moon lines up between Mars and Jupiter. It’s in its waxing gibbous phase. That means the Sun lights up most of the hemisphere that faces our way, and the fraction is getting larger by the day. The Moon will be full on Friday.

The planet Uranus lines up close to the upper right of the Moon. It’s the Sun’s third-largest planet. But it’s about 800 million miles farther than Saturn, and it doesn’t reflect as much sunlight. It actually can be visible to the eye alone, but only under especially dark skies. The moonlight overpowers it, so you need help to see this faint giant.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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