Skywatchers over the course of the next few nights have a chance to observe the thin-crescent waxing moon pair up with a couple of the brightest planets in the evening sky now, Mars and Saturn. Facing the southwestern sky just after local sunset on June 25 and 26 Luna will first be hanging just below the Red Planet. Pair will be less than 6 degrees apart in the sky – that’s just a bit more than the width of three fingers held at an outstretched arm.
Mars is currently sitting about 200 million km from Earth and will be the center of attention in a little more than 6 weeks from now when NASA’s Curiosity rover arrives at the planet.
Then on June 27 and 28 the Moon will have glided further towards the southern sky and pair up with Saturn – again only 6 degrees apart. Saturn is joined just below it by a true star, Spica – the lead member of the constellation Virgo. Taking 29 years to orbit the Sun, the ringed giant has been hanging around Spica in our skies for the last couple of years and will remain in its company for another year or so before it moves off to neighboring constellation Libra to its left.
BTW- you can tell Saturn and Spica apart quite easily because of their contrasting colors. Saturn, sitting at 1.5 billion km from Earth is more creamy yellow while 263 light year distant Spica sparkles like a rich bluish-white celestial gemstone.
If you have a telescope, it’s worth training it on the 6th planet from the Sun – not only can you see its majestic rings, but if you look carefully under high magnification its shadow being cast on Saturn’s cloudtops can be glimpsed. Look beside the planet and you can even spy some of its largest and most reflective moons like Titan, Mimas and Dione. Don’t believe that Saturn can look cool through a backyard telescope? Check out this amazing composite digital image of Saturn (left) taken through a 14″ telescope located within the city limits of Montreal, Canada on June 23rd.
Time to get out that scope that has been dusting away in the closet and check out these amazing worlds – and our Moon will conveniently guide you to them this week!
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.