03 October 2007

Planet Lineup

As the days grow shorter and the nights longer and the Fall weather brings clearer skies to San Francisco, I find myself with more opportunities to gaze into the heavens. While some may groan that it is dark when they wake up in the morning, I think it is a perfect time for a 60-second peek into the sky. There is much going on so take note and enjoy the fact that Daylight Savings Time lasts an extra week this year (it ends on November 4th).

After the Moon, the five nearest planets are the brightest objects in the night sky. Right now we have clear views of four of them (Mercury is too close to the setting Sun to be seen at this time). Jupiter is an evening object low in the southwest after sunset. By the end of October it will be setting shortly after the Sun. Mars is a nightime object rising due east and moving directly overhead by morning. The diagram illustrates its location this week drifting through Gemini with a close encounter with one of the two bright "twin" stars of Gemini. Venus and Saturn are both morning objects. Given that sunrise is just after 7:00 am this week, the two planets are quite bright in the pre-dawn sky around 6:00 or earlier. Next week there are some beautiful combinations of planets, stars and Moon that you will want to see. The grouping on Sunday morning October 7th should be very striking.

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