ODYSSEY -- ADVENTURES IN SCIENCE!


"The Moon And Saturn, Venus And Regulus: A Cosmic Quad For Your Viewing Delight"

By Jack Horkheimer

Greetings, greetings fellow star gazers. And mark this weekend of the 14th, but especially Monday the 16th and Tuesday the 17th, as the time to go out just after it gets dark out to see four objects all close together for your viewing delight.

Go out any night during the week of Monday the 9th through through Sunday the 15th, just after it gets dark out, and face west. Pay attention to a triangle of objects which will be joined by a 4th next Monday. Directly in front of you you’ll see the second planet from the Sun still at its brightest for this appearance as the evening star, planet #2, 8,000 mile wide Venus. And remember the reason it’s so incredibly bright is not just because it’s so close but because it is also the most reflective of all the planets because it is entirely enshrouded by bright white clouds which make it act like a mirror reflecting enormous quantities of sunlight back to us.

Now just above it, to its right, is a much dimmer object which although intrinsically much, much bigger and more impressive than Venus is dim only because it is much farther away. It is a very hot, blue white star, and a whopping 4 million miles wide which makes it over 4 times as wide as our own almost million mile wide Sun. Its name is Regulus and it marks the heart of one of the most ancient constellations in written history, Leo the Lion. Finally, completing our triangle is planet #6 which I always think of as the most beautiful planet in our solar system, 75,000 mile wide ringed Saturn. Although if we counted the distance from one edge of Saturn’s ring system to the other the distance would actually be 175 thousand miles which means we could line up 22 Earths side by side from one edge of Saturn’s rings system to the other. Wow!

So there you have it, three objects, two planets and one star making a lovely triangle in early evening skies. But ta da! If you go out next Monday July 16th just after dark you will see these three joined by an exquisite crescent Moon and the entire picture will absolutely knock your socks off, especially if you contemplate what you’re really seeing, because although they will look huddled together, they are in fact separated in space by incredible distances. Indeed next Monday our 2,000 mile wide Moon will be only 241,000 miles away from Earth whereas 8,000 mile wide Venus will be 39 million miles away. And Saturn will be an incredible, almost one billion miles away! Regulus on the other hand, visually the dimmest, although intrinsically the brightest, will be a whopping 468 trillion miles away! Don’t miss this foursome please! But if you do, on Tuesday the 17th the crescent Moon will be just beyond the cosmic trio and will form yet another exquisite cosmic quad. Keep looking up!


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