The Four Planets
The worlds of the solar system put on a beautiful display this weekend, and for a couple of weeks beyond. Four of the five planets that are visible to the unaided eye are in sight at the same time. But you have to look quickly, because two of them drop from view in a hurry.
The two brightest and easiest to find are Venus and Mercury. They're quite low in the west at sunset, and pop into view as the sky begins to darken.
Venus is the dazzling "evening star." No other star or planet can compete with it, so you won't have any trouble finding it. You might have trouble convincing yourself it's really a planet, though. It's so low and bright that it's easy to think it's an approaching airplane with its landing lights turned on. But unlike an airplane, Venus stays put.
Mercury is a little to the right or lower right of Venus. It's bright, too, so the two worlds will create a beautiful display.
Mars stands high in the south, and looks like a bright orange star. It's faded quite a bit since its great appearance in early winter, but it's still a pretty sight.
And finally, Saturn is climbing skyward in the east, and looks like a golden star. It's the faintest of the four worlds, but there are no other bright stars or planets around it, so it's pretty easy to find.
Venus and Mercury will remain close together for a couple of weeks. So if you miss this impressive lineup of planets this weekend, you'll still plenty of time to enjoy the show.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.