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Early Morning Planets
March 27, 2020
If we’re lucky enough to get clear skies in the early morning--before 7am Eastern, look to the south and you’ll see three bright points of light. From left-to-right, it’s Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter. Saturn of course is easily the most spectacular when viewed through a telescope. Any telescope will show you the planet’s rings. If you have a small telescope, you may have to give your eyes a moment to adjust. But if you don’t have a telescope, look at Jupiter with a pair of binoculars to see the four Galilean moons Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa. You’ll see them flanking the giant planet on either side. They’ll look like little stars all lined up. They’re called the Galilean Moons because Galileo discovered them when he first looked at Jupiter through what would now be considered a pretty rudimentary telescope. That explains why most modern binoculars will show you the same thing.
If you miss it this weekend, that’s okay. But if skies are clear on Tuesday morning (March 31, 2020), you won’t want to miss the show. That’s when Saturn and Mars will be right next to each other--what’s often called a conjunction, but more technically this event is called an ‘appulse.’ An appulse is a looser term for two celestial objects that appear near each other in the sky. The term usually applies to objects that appear to move across the sky like the moon and planets. Whereas stars don’t move much at all during a human lifetime. A conjunction means the two objects share the same east-west coordinates--what astronomers call the “right ascension.”
Anyway, it’s easy to get into the weeds with those terms. Just know that on Tuesday (March 31, 2020) morning, Saturn will be right on top of Mars, with Jupiter a little further to the right in the early morning southern sky.