A Lot Going On in the Solar System

Between the Sun and the planets and the moon, there’s a lot to keep track of right now!

  • The Sun is sporting a huge dark spot large enough (but not safe unless you have a special filter or use other means) to be seen with the naked eye (learn how to view the sun safely before you try anything!!!!)
  • A huge eruption on the sun (a solar flare) a couple of days ago has made it into the mainstream press, so you’ve read all about it; its arrival at earth was a bit less powerful than expected, but there’s still enough activity going on that there’s a reasonable chance of Northern Lights and Southern Lights (i.e. auroras) even in places that don’t normally have them, such as the New York City area and other areas at similar latitudes. If you’re in northern Europe you should be looking now.
  • The planets Venus and Jupiter, the brightest objects high in the western sky after sunset, appear to be approaching each other day by day, as seen from Earth (though their actual distance from one other is much greater than the distance from the Earth to the Sun).  They’ll appear to pass by each other in just one week.  As you keep an eye on their daily progress, and see how the apparent distance between them shrinks night by night, you may enjoy considering how rapidly the planets move, as they traverse such immense distances.
  • The planet Mars rises at sunset and is a bright red dot almost due overhead at midnight, because the Earth lies almost on the straight line between Mars and the Sun. And the Moon, just past full and starting to wane, is not that far in the sky from Mars tonight — though it was much closer last night and will be further away tomorrow.  Remember it has to get all the way around the Earth every 28 days or so, so it appears to move much further every night than do the planets.

So if you’re lucky enough to have clear skies, go out and enjoy them!

2 responses to “A Lot Going On in the Solar System

  1. A chart of what’s observable at any time and from any latitude can be seen here: http://britastro.org/computing/applets_planets.html
    A more detailed chart showing Venus passing Jupiter can be seen here: http://britastro.org/computing/charts.html

  2. Skies are great recently, I think I’ve seen all 5 naked eye planets this week. I’m not entirely sure about Mercury though.