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The return of Saturn and Mars

Wayne Holmes
By Wayne Holmes
March 30th, 2018

Local Astronomer Wayne Holmes has had an interest in astronomy since receiving his first telescope and began reading about objects in the sky at a young age. As the coordinator of the Starry Nights program at Taghum Hall as well as multi session astronomy classes as part of the Learning in Retirement program and astronomy programs for schools, Holmes has always had a desire to sky gaze. Thankfully, Holmes has agreed to share his knowledge with a column, Solar System and Beyond that will appear occasionally in The Nelson Daily.

The month of March is the second month with two full Moons in 2018 and it’s second, or so called “Blue Moon” will rise in the east at sunset on March 31st.

If you are outside just before dawn on April 2nd, look towards the eastern horizon and you will see one of the closest planetary conjunctions of the year as Mars sits about 1 1/4 degrees below Saturn. Both planets are close to 0.5 magnitude, meaning that they will be quite bright and easy to see with the naked eye.

Through binoculars, creamy coloured Saturn and Orange Mars should make an attractive pair. You won’t quite be able to fit both planets into a typical telescope field of view but you will be able to see Saturn’s rings which are tilted a good 26 degrees from our point of view and if conditions are good you should be able to pick out three to five of Saturn’s larger moons.

This conjunction also happens to be in a part of the constellation of Sagittarius that offers a lot to see with binoculars or a telescope. If the sky is still dark enough when you are viewing the conjuction, scan the area and you may be able to pick out the open star cluster M25 and globular star clusters M22 and M28 among the many deep sky objects this constellation has to offer

On April 7th you will find a waning, last quarter Moon has joined the two planets and will be one degree above Saturn.

If you look toward the west on the evening of April 17th you may spot the conjunction of the two brightest night sky objects. A thin, two day old crescent Moon will be about 5 degrees below and to the left of the planet Venus. Try to find a fairly low western horizon and look for the pair shortly after sunset.

Wayne Holmes  


Categories: EducationOp/Ed


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