Tuesday, June 13, 2006

[FOTHP] Planetary Conjunction Update

Friends of the Hudnall Planetarium,

These days a lot of us are too busy to look up and enjoy the beauty of the heavens above. We don't realize that there are star-like objects that wander about somewhat erratically over our heads among the real stars. The ancient Greeks knew about them and called them wanderers. Today we call them "planets" which is Greek for "wanderer."

This week we have the opportunity to easily view several planets in the nighttime sky.

In the western sky at dusk, just when it is beginning to get dark, you can see a planetary conjunction. A conjunction is a gathering of celestial objects in the same part of the sky. In this case, the planet Saturn and Mars appear near each other. I say "appear" because Saturn and Mars are actually very far apart, more than 700 million miles. Nevertheless, the appearance of Saturn and Mars together is a beautiful sight.

What makes this planetary conjunction more beautiful is what lies nearby. You can't see it with your unaided eye, but with a pair of binoculars you can easily see the Beehive Cluster nearby. This is an Open Cluster of young stars that is very far away, and on June 15th Mars passes in front of the cluster. On June 17th Mars and Jupiter will be only half a degree (about the diameter of the full moon) apart. After the 17th, the planets will move farther apart and appear lower in the sky each night until they disappear in the glow of the sun.

After you've enjoyed Saturn, Mars, and the Beehive, turn your head to the left and look in the southern sky. You can see Jupiter, the solar system's largest planet, as a bright star-like object high in the south. If you use your pair of binoculars on Jupiter, you can see one of more of the four largest moons of Jupiter-the Galilean satellites.

Upcoming events at the planetarium
June 30, 8:00am-4:00pm, Workshop for K-8 Science Teachers
July 8 & 9, 2:00pm, "More Than Meets the Eye" planetarium show

For more information, contact the Hudnall Planetarium at 903-510-2312 or visit the planetarium website at http://planetarium.tjc.edu.

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