By Mike Lynch
Last week in Starwatch I told you about a nice coupling of Venus, Jupiter and the moon in the early eastern predawn morning sky, which is still going on this week minus the moon.
This week we get a great show in the early evening southwestern sky as well, as the new crescent moon gets up close and personal with Mars and Saturn just after evening twilight.
Tonight in the Everett sky look for the crescent moon in the low west-southwest sky. You’ll need to have a clear view of the horizon to see it. Observing from a hill or at least higher ground will help.
Just to the upper left of the moon you’ll see three stars forming a skinny triangle. Actually there’s only one star in that triad. Just to the upper left of the moon is the planet Mars that, even to the naked eye, has a reddish copper tinge to it.
To the upper left of Mars, the next “star” you’ll see will be Saturn. The moon, Mars and Saturn will form a nearly straight line. To the lower left of Saturn is Spica, an actual star and the brightest luminary in the large but faint constellation Virgo the Virgin.
You can have some real fun here with even a small telescope. The moon, of course, is your best target with its craters, mountains and darker, smoother lunar plains called maria. The best place to train your scope is along what’s known as the terminator, the inside left edge of the crescent.
That’s where you can see the most detail because that’s where the sun is rising on the moon and there are longer shadows. Sometimes you can even see some of the lunar mountain peaks poke above the left or dark side of the terminator.
The second best telescope target is Saturn, which is always great because you can see its ring system collaring the planet. You may even see some of its many moons that resemble tiny stars swarming around the ringed wonder of our solar system.
Saturn won’t appear quite as large through your scope as it did in the spring because it’s farther away from Earth, more than 900 million miles away. That’s about 100 million miles farther away than it was in late March.
Saturn may also appear a little fuzzier because you are viewing it through a thicker layer of the Earth’s atmosphere since it’s lower in the sky. Despite those handicaps Saturn is still worth a look.
To be totally honest with you, I wouldn’t spend much time at all with your telescope on Mars. It’s a much smaller planet than Earth, with a diameter a little over 4,000 miles compared with our world’s 8,000 mile girth. Mars, at almost 150 million miles away, will be a little fuzzy dot at best.
Monday night the moon will be a little fatter and will appear just to the lower left of Mars. On Tuesday night the even fatter crescent moon will be parked right next to Spica and Saturn.
On Wednesday night the first half moon will be just below a moderately bright star with a mouthful for a name. It’s the star Zubenelgenubi, pronounced zuba gela new bee, If that’s not a long enough star name for you, the next brightest star above Zubenelgenubi is Zubeneschamali, pronounced zuba-nesh-a-molly.
Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of the book, “Washington Starwatch,” available at bookstores. Check his website, www.lynchandthestars.com.
The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org/.