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March Madness!
March 5, 2012 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Take a tour of the solar system! Tonight, see the wonders of Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn! There's only one catch: You'll need to actually step outside to do it.

There are five planets visible with the naked eye and for the first time in eight years you can catch all of them in a single night.

As the sun goes down and the sky darkens look to the west and you'll see Venus, the second third brightest object in the night sky. Above it, Jupiter inches closer by the night. Trace a line from Jupiter down through Venus to find Mercury. If you have a clear view to the West you'll see Mercury as a dim yellowish star just above the horizon.

Mars, which will be making its closest approach to Earth tonight, will be rising in the East just after nightfall.

Saturn follows Mars a couple hours later, rising in the East. Want to know the exact time it's rising? Use this handy service.

Light pollution and the nearly full, beautiful, bright waxing gibbous Moon shouldn't be enough to stop you.

So go! Find some clear skies with views to the West and enjoy March Madness!

Let's just get this out of the way right now: No, you can't see Uranus.
posted by bondcliff (48 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you for posting this. I usually only hear about these things the morning after.
posted by gauche at 11:01 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I seem to recall in event in late '97 where 4 planets & the waxing crescent moon were visible in the west. It was pretty amazing to be able to see the plane of the whole solar system laid out like that. I had a very serious "you are here" moment.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:04 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stupid city living.
posted by Phredward at 11:08 AM on March 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've never seen Mercury, that I know of.
In the city, it was probably too bright. Now I'm in Vermont, we often get very clear skies, but I don't have the horizon- I'm surrounded by mountains.
Now I'll try again.
posted by MtDewd at 11:13 AM on March 5, 2012


google cache of the first link, for those of us Murdoch Blocked....
posted by dongolier at 11:14 AM on March 5, 2012


Rats. The forecast here is for rain/snow. (I know you are shocked it may be overcast here in the Seattle area.)
posted by bearwife at 11:16 AM on March 5, 2012


I've never seen Mercury, that I know of.

I've never been able to find it before so I went down to the lake on Saturday night and when I found it I felt like Charlie finding the golden ticket. I was way too excited. It was higher than I expected to be. I kept looking and eventually I just saw this dim little light that got easier to find the later it got. Once I knew where to look I could see it from my front yard, through the trees.
posted by bondcliff at 11:17 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Any idea which planets I was able to see near the moon the Sunday before last? They were super bright, even before the sun was down and under the city lights -- and all relatively near the moon in sky placement? Someone told me what they were (or what they thought they were) but it was pretty amazing, especially considering you're lucky if you see more than a couple stars.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:19 AM on March 5, 2012


MCMikeNamara - You almost certainly saw Jupiter and Venus, as they've been out since the beginning of February.
posted by General Malaise at 11:21 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for reminding me about this! It was so embarrassing last time around when I was late to the ritual because I forgot my hooded robes at the cleaners.

No disparaging looks for me from the Most Eldritch tonight!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:23 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for reminding me about this! It was so embarrassing last time around when I was late to the ritual because I forgot my hooded robes at the cleaners.

Is this a casual robe event or black tie?
posted by madajb at 11:26 AM on March 5, 2012


My daughter and I finally got to see Mars last night. And before it got too cold, we checked up on Jupiter and Venus before it got too rough for us. Mercury and Saturn are still on our to-do list, but a 5yo's bedtime usually throws a curve into things.
posted by fijiwriter at 11:32 AM on March 5, 2012


Thank you! I've never seen Mercury, either -- somehow I was up to now unaware that it was even visible with the naked eye.
posted by trip and a half at 11:33 AM on March 5, 2012


There are five planets visible with the naked eye and for the first time in eight years you can catch all of them in a single night.

Oh god! Quickly, you grab the Seven Knives Of Ix The Unrelenting, you begin chanting, oh god why didn't get the memo, hurry! take this book to the top of the empire state building and for the love of god do not open it, quickly THERE'S NO TIME
posted by The Whelk at 11:36 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh man, if any of you haven't already installed it and have the capability to do so, the Google Sky app is a real wonder. I've been out walking at night so many times and wondered at the stars, wondered if they were planets, wondered about the constellations, all of that. And I've had little to no knowledge to further my wonderment.

But you just point your phone up at whatever you're looking at in the sky, and boom there it is. Labeled, linked, and zoomable. It's like having a telescope and a star map and an encyclopedia right in your phone.
posted by carsonb at 11:37 AM on March 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


And if you look sixty degrees to the the east of the projectile rose, you may catch a fleeting glimpse of the mysterious and handsome Tuxedo Mask. Wait! Come back, Tuxedo Mask!
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:41 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alrighty then, a trip out to the marshes and the islands it is!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:43 AM on March 5, 2012


Hee, this is very exciting! I'll have to go somewhere dark enough for this though because I live in a suburb that has tons of lights.

And just this weekend, some dude had a telescope set up to see some solar flares, which was fucking mindblowing.
posted by sperose at 11:53 AM on March 5, 2012


I noticed Venus being very bright as I left work last week, and another planet between it and the moon. I wondered what planet it was, then realized I had the answer available in my pocket! I pulled out my phone and used Sky Map to find out it was Jupiter.

Sometimes I like this living in the future stuff.
posted by fings at 11:55 AM on March 5, 2012


I'm in a pretty light polluted suburb and I was able to see them all. Even in the brightest city four out of five of them should be easy to spot.

With a decent pair of binoculars you should be able to make out discs of most of them as well as see up to four moons of Jupiter. Even a cheap telescope is enough to see the rings on Saturn and some color bands on Jupiter.
posted by bondcliff at 11:59 AM on March 5, 2012


Needs appropriate music.
posted by crapmatic at 12:02 PM on March 5, 2012


You'll need to actually step outside to do it.

Wait, I not only need to go Outside, but I have to hang around Out There for a couple of hours??? Do you know what's out there? Is there a website I can see this?

Just kidding, thanks for reminding us!
posted by Runes at 12:05 PM on March 5, 2012


Some amusing pedantry stolen from the comments section of the first link: there will of course be six planets visible to the naked eye this evening. ˙uʍop ʞool ʇsnɾ
posted by orthicon halo at 12:07 PM on March 5, 2012 [4 favorites]



Take a tour of the solar system!

Needs appropriate music



We had a lot of luck on Venus
We always had a ball on Mars
Meetin' all the groovy people
We've rocked the Milky Way so far
We danced around with Borealis
Space truckin' to the stars

Come on! Come on! Come on! Let's go space truckin'
Come on! Come on! Come on! Space truckin'. . .
 
posted by Herodios at 12:10 PM on March 5, 2012


To give you an idea of the horizon you'll need to see Mercury, hold your arm at out hands length, make a thumbs-up sign, with the thumb pointing straight up. Put the base of the fist on the horizon.

The tip of your thumb will then be 15° above the Horizon, today, in Chicago IL, at exactly sunset, Mercury will be 18° above the horizon.

So, you need a clear horizon to the west.

An hour after sunset, Mercury will be barely 3° above the horizon. So, you really only have about half an hour, and the longer after sunset, the lower it will be -- but the darker the sky will be.
posted by eriko at 12:16 PM on March 5, 2012


Oh, yeah -- and if you're in Chicago, and the weather holds -- bright sunny skies right now -- you can fix the horizon problem quite easily by going up into the Hancock Observatory or Big Willy Skydeck.
posted by eriko at 12:29 PM on March 5, 2012


Needs appropriate music

No, no, no. It's this.
posted by Ducks or monkeys at 1:12 PM on March 5, 2012


Jupiter, Venus and the Moon were so bright we could see them through a light fog we had in San Francisco last week. You should be able to see them in the sky no matter how much light pollution you have.

We wre luck and actually got to see Mercury as well when it was clear. Jupiter and Venus are lined up like an arrow to show you where to look.

It wasn't until the last time that they lined up like this that I really got an understanding of how they were all in the same orbital plane.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:50 PM on March 5, 2012


If you want to blow a four-year-old's mind, don't go out looking for the planets until a few minutes before the ISS is due to go over. My daughter went very quiet and I was pretty sure I could hear her brain growing.
posted by Hogshead at 2:04 PM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I keep meaning to get outside with my telescope to look at Venus (seen plenty of other things with it, but never Venus). Hopefully some night this week.

A couple times recently I've been up late enough to find myself asking, "What's that super-bright reddish one over there? Aldebaran? No, the Hyades are way on the other side of the sky. Betelgeuse? Nope, it's nowhere near Sirius. So it must be... Mars!" Mars is already visible at night again. Cool!
posted by jiawen at 2:12 PM on March 5, 2012


This is good. I've been showing my son Mars, Venus, and Jupiter at every opportunity this month. Jupiter has been reining the night sky since November. Thank goodness for Netflix streaming...the whole "The Universe" series is on there and it looks like many of the videos are on YouTube. SkyMap is awesome as are green laser pointers in the hand of a responsible adult.
posted by aydeejones at 2:29 PM on March 5, 2012


Thank you, bondcliff! I'll check this out tonight if it clears up.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:58 PM on March 5, 2012


Thank you thank you thank you. I've been loving Jupiter and Venus and had no idea Mars has been visible too. And now Mercury? And Saturn? Awesome. Time for a nice long nighttime bike ride.
posted by mediareport at 3:02 PM on March 5, 2012


It's just about prime time for Mercury on the East coast. Follow the line from Jupiter down through Venus and look about a fist or two above the Western horizon. If you don't see it right away keep looking. The sky will get darker and your eyes will adjust and I bet it'll pop right out.

Heck, I just looked out my back window; Mars is up in the East, nice and bright. Follow an arc through Mars, the moon, along the South through Jupiter and Venus and it should point right down to Mercury.

Now I'm heading out to meet Mefites for Trivia!

Keep watching the staaaaaaars!
posted by bondcliff at 3:10 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been catching Mars in my telescope ever since I got back in the hobby last fall. Back then it was a little salmon-colored featureless dot. Then I started seeing an ice cap. Then the ice cap started to shrink. Now dark features are easily seen. It's been very cool. It's been cloudy nearly every night for the last month, so I'm taking advantage of these three straight clear nights.

And last night I saw the Cassini Division on Saturn for the first time.

Sadly, I can't seem to catch Mercury. Too many trees in the way.
posted by dirigibleman at 3:54 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was way too excited. It was higher than I expected to be...

cool...
posted by ovvl at 5:11 PM on March 5, 2012


I just went out with my scope and finally saw the half-moon shape of Venus for the first time, then looked at the Galilean moons, M42 (the Orion Nebula) and M45 (the Pleiades). All quite beautiful.
posted by jiawen at 5:33 PM on March 5, 2012


You can actually see six planets, of course.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:02 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks so much for posting this! I just spent 20 minutes in my driveway savoring that rarest of events: the confluence of a sky event and actual good viewing weather, which is notoriously unusual in these parts.

Soooo beautiful, with subtle color differences visible to the naked eye. It's nights like this one I'm grateful to live in a wee bitty village with little light pollution.

I can just hear the late Jack Horkheimer waxing poetic about tonight's sky. Keep looking up!
posted by kinnakeet at 6:17 PM on March 5, 2012


I'd probably be wrong to think that star gazing has produced more art and poetry than human sexuality...but not by much.

Thanks for the post, I'm gazing right now and it's beautiful!
posted by snsranch at 8:29 PM on March 5, 2012


"I'd probably be wrong to think that star gazing has produced more art and poetry than human sexuality...but not by much."

These three things often go together.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:05 PM on March 5, 2012


Any idea which planets I was able to see near the moon the Sunday before last? They were super bright, even before the sun was down and under the city lights -- and all relatively near the moon in sky placement? Someone told me what they were (or what they thought they were) but it was pretty amazing, especially considering you're lucky if you see more than a couple stars.

Pretty sure that was Venus and Jupiter hanging out in the west by the crescent moon at that time.
posted by sourwookie at 9:45 PM on March 5, 2012


carsonb: "It's like having a telescope and a star map and an encyclopedia right in your phone."

With a bonus of ruined night vision! ;)

That's probably offset by the pure awesome, of course...
posted by wierdo at 3:48 AM on March 6, 2012


With a bonus of ruined night vision! ;)

Google Sky Map has a night vision mode, and cyanogenmod also has a setting to make the screen red. Of course, you have to remember to do this before going outside...

There's another app called SkEye that is a little more detailed, and it has a neat mode where you can attach it to your scope and use it to help point towards an object you want to look at. Unfortunately, it only works as well as the compass in your phone (and the metal tube of most scopes messes up compasses), so I haven't found it to be very accurate, but it's a neat idea.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:04 AM on March 6, 2012


We used Star Walk on the iPad to great effect when we had my kid's scope out a few weeks ago. It has the night vision red-screen mode, though I blew it by hitting the home button a couple times& getting blinded.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:31 AM on March 6, 2012


If you live in the boonies, "Uranus's magnitude of +5.7 means that its star-like image is findable by a keen naked eye on a dark night". And "At opposition, Uranus is visible to the naked eye in dark skies, and becomes an easy target even in urban conditions with binoculars"
posted by Twang at 4:49 PM on March 6, 2012


Thanks for this post! It was a clear night on Sunday as my partner and I were walking home and I remarked upon some unusual-looking 'stars'. Looks like we saw Jupiter and Venus without even knowing it!
posted by Gordafarin at 2:35 AM on March 7, 2012


I'm a bit late to the show here, but if you're an armchair astronomer (or live smack in the city), install Stellarium, and have your own planetarium on your computer.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:00 PM on March 7, 2012


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