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Moon and Planets

April 24, 2016

The Moon, two bright planets, and one bright star form a beautiful quartet in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. They climb into good view by around midnight, and scoot low across the south later on.

The brightest and closest of the Moon’s three companions is Mars, which is to the lower right of the Moon as they hove into view. The little planet currently outshines almost everything else in the night sky, so it’s hard to miss even when the Moon isn’t around.

Mars and Earth are moving closer together, though, which is making Mars a bigger and brighter target. A month from now, the planet will look about twice as bright as it does right now. And that’ll make its orange color stand out even better.

If you extend the line from the Moon to Mars farther to the lower right, you’ll come to Antares, the bright star at the heart of Scorpius, the celestial scorpion. Antares is only a fraction as bright as Mars right now, but it shows the same orange color. And that’s where the star got its name. The color reminded skywatchers of Mars, so they called the star the “rival of Ares,” the Greek version of Mars.

Finally, look to the lower left of the Moon for the planet Saturn. It’s roughly half-way between the brightness of Mars and Antares, so it, too, is quite easy to pick out.

Mars will back away from Saturn and Antares over the next few weeks, then reverse course and join up with them again in summer.

We’ll have more about this morning lineup tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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