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How many planets can you see?

5 March 2012 by Lisa

It’s planet-hunting time! Here’s John Moran from the planetarium to tell us what to look out for this month…


Planets in the night sky

Planetary conjunction with Venus and Jupiter. Image courtesy of Peter Vandevelde from the astronomie.be website.

During March there will be more planets on view that you can shake a reflecting telescope at! Even if you have an obstructed view of part of the sky there will still be a planet or two to look at in the part of the sky that you can see.

At around 9pm we will still have Venus shining bright in the extreme west of the sky; in the south there is Jupiter, south-east there is Mars and finally in the east we have Saturn. If that doesn’t get you excited then nothing will. It’s at times like this that I wish I had a telescope with ‘go-to technology’ – just press a button and it finds your target instantly. Plus, you can also hook it up to a laptop. Sounds brill doesn’t it? 

On the 13 March we have a planetary conjunction with Venus and Jupiter. This is when two or more planets come very close together in the sky from our viewpoint, at which point they will be less than the width of a full moon apart. So, if you look through a telescope or binoculars they will be in the same field of view as each other. Try and notice from now on these two planets as they draw ever closer to each other.

Its funny how many people I’ve been getting coming up to me in the Planetarium saying “Wow, the north star seems really bright right now doesn’t it?” Of course, they’re talking about Venus. This is one of the biggest misconceptions with star gazing that the north star is the brightest star in the night sky! Actually the north star, or polaris as its also called, is only 48th on the list of brightest stars. Ancient mariners would’ve been in big trouble if they had thought Venus was the star to follow. 

Who knows where they would’ve ended up! Happy planet hunting.

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