Sky Lights ~ Virgo

August 22 - September 22, 2010

Mercury, as it switches from the evening to the morning sky, is hidden from our view by the bright light of the Sun. This elusive planet is in inferior conjunction 9/3 reappears above the sunrise horizon around mid-September. Begin looking in the east before dawn as early as 9/13. The planet brightens with each new day and is at its best the morning of 9/19 when it is at greatest elongation and positioned below Regulus, the heart star of Leo the Lion. 9/19 Dawn Map Afterwards Mercury sinks back toward the Sun. Mercury rises in the east around 5:30am and remains close to the horizon until sunrise. Mercury is retrograde 8/20-9/12.

Saturn is sinking toward the setting Sun and is challenging to see after the first week of September. The planet sets in the beginning of Virgo at 9:00pm and at 7:45pm by its end. Venus, Mars and Spica, the brightest star of Virgo the Virgin, lie to the left of Saturn. Saturn and Spica are equally bright at magnitude 1.0. 8/23 Dusk Map ~ 8/31 8pm Map Saturn's telescopic rings are tilting open, revealing more and more of their northern face. Generate images of Saturn's ring tilt as seen from Earth with the Solar System Simulator.

Venus and Mars pair up near Spica, the brightest star of Virgo the Virgin. Look low on the west-southwest horizon soon after sunset. Both planets are sinking in altitude, setting around 9:30pm at the beginning of Virgo and at 8:30pm by its end. Venus is moving closer to Earth growing bigger and brighter, while Mars is moving away and diminishing in size and brightness. Venus at magnitude -4.7 pierces the twilit sky and brilliantly blazes in a dark sky until it disappears below the horizon. Dim Mars at magnitude 1.5 can only be seen as the sky darkens. The planets' star companion, blue-white Spica, at magnitude 1.0 is only a little brighter than our Red Planet. 8/23 both Venus and Mars lie between Saturn and Spica. Binoculars make vivid the hues of rouge-gold Mars, bluish Spica and yellowish Saturn. 8/23 Dusk Map 8/31 Venus moves further left of Mars below Spica; Saturn now lies to their far right. 8/31 8pm Map 9/5 Mars lies above Spica with Venus to their left. 9/5 8pm Map  9/10+11 the young Moon joins the 2 planets and star; get out those binoculars to fully enjoy the show; challenging to see Saturn lies to their far left. 9/10+11 Map 7:45pm Venus is at its greatest brilliancy 9/23. 9/23 7:30pm Map Venus has phases like the Moon; you can see them and more in this Venus 2010 Animation. As Venus gets closer to Earth and bigger in disk size its illuminated phase decreases; during Virgo Venus wanes from a 48%-27% illuminated Crescent. You can see this demonstrated in APOD's animation of the phases of Venus.

Jupiter is at its very best for 2010 during September, reaching opposition 9/21, when it is seen from sunset to sunrise. At this opposition the planet lies closer to Earth than it has in 47 years, resulting in its appearance being bigger and brighter than it has been in a long time. Jupiter rises in the east at the beginning of Virgo at 9:00pm and by its end at 7:00pm. The planet travels high above the southern horizon as the night progresses, sinking low in the west around sunrise. Jupiter at magnitude -2.9 is the brightest point of light in the morning sky and in the evening sky after Venus sets. During Virgo, in the dim constellation of Pisces, Jupiter pairs up with Uranus, which at magnitude 5.7 is now easily seen with binoculars and without an optical aid in a dark sky. Uranus and Jupiter are in exact conjunction Sept. 18/19; 9/21 Uranus reaches opposition 5 hours after Jupiter. 8/26 look for the waning Gibbous Moon near Jupiter. 8/26 11:30pm Map 9/23 there's an encore performance with the Harvest Full Moon near Jupiter. 9/23 9pm Map Jupiter is retrograde 7/23-11/17.

The Big Dipper is in the northwest arcing to bright golden Arcturus in the west, at nightfall. Summer Stars How many summer evening stars can you find using spring's Big Dipper Navigation? Notice the seasonal position of the Big Dipper's bowl.

Scorpius the cosmic scorpion, a sprawling j-shaped constellation, is seen in the southwest at sunset. Antares is the red heart star of Scorpius. With binoculars on a moonless night can you find the Scorpion's missing claws (now the constellation Libra), its two stinger stars sometimes called cat's eyes or how about the star clusters M6 and M7 above the Scorpion's stinger? These Maps/Text from 2008 are helpful. Throughout the year you can Track Bunny's Footprints in Scorpius!

The Summer Triangle, a stellar right triangle, is high in the northeast at sunset. Vega is the brightest star and western point; Deneb the dimmest star and eastern point, Altair is the southern point. Hercules the Strong Man lies about a third of the way from bright white Vega to golden Arcturus in the northwest. Look for his four star wedge-shaped torso. Summer Stars

The Milky Way appears like a faint cloud extending from Scorpius on the southwestern horizon, to the Summer Triangle high overhead, and onward toward Cassiopeia (M or W shaped) on the northeastern horizon. Star Map.

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