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Moon and Planets
Most of the time, you can’t tell much about how far away the lights in the night sky are just by looking at them. But you can tonight — at least for a bright trio: the Moon and the planets Jupiter and Saturn.
Not surprisingly, the Moon is the brightest member of the trio. And it’s also the closest — a quarter of a million miles away. Except for the occasional asteroid, no astronomical object ever gets closer to us.
Jupiter is to the right of the Moon, and it looks like a brilliant star. Right now, only Venus and Mars outshine it.
Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system — 11 times the diameter of Earth. And it’s topped by bright clouds. The combination means it reflects a lot of sunlight our way. But its luster is dulled by its distance: roughly 485 million miles.
Saturn is above the Moon. The planet looks like a bright star, though not nearly as bright as Jupiter. It, too, is a giant world enveloped in clouds. And as a bonus, its rings reflect a lot of light as well. From a distance of 930 million miles, though, it can’t hold a candle to Jupiter.
There’s another way to look at the distances to these three bodies: how long it takes their light to reach Earth. For the Moon, it’s about one and a third seconds. For Jupiter, it’s about 43 minutes. And for distant Saturn, it’s almost twice that — eighty-three minutes for its light to travel from the giant planet to your eye.
Script by Damond Benningfield