The planets that are the bread to an Earth sandwich
9/2/2015 10:28 AM
Have you seen a "new star" in the eastern, morning sky just before sunrise? What IS that bright thing anyway? Of course, it's not actually a star, it's the planet Venus! The 2nd planet from the Sun switched from the evening sky over into the morning sky. But check out what is also nearby - the planet Mars. Neither will look like much in a telescope now - well, you can probably see a significant sickle-shape "phase" with enough magnification on Venus, but not much detail on either one.
That doesn't mean they aren't worth taking a look at, given that one is inside our orbit (Venus), and the other outside of it (Mars). So you could say that Venus and Mars are the "bread" to an Earth sandwich. (Or not!) Okay, so maybe it's just more fun to think about the fact that we can see the next inner and outer planets right near each other in the sky.
You can measure angular distance in the sky by holding your fist out at arm's length. The distance across your hand from one side to the other (the long way) is about 10 degrees. An hour before sunrise, Venus will appear about 10 degrees off the horizon, so look from a location with a low, eastern horizon. Mars is about 10 degrees north (left) of Venus from the northern hemisphere.
Venus will be the brightest object you see here (well, until the Sun rises). Sirius, towards the southeast, will be bright but not nearly to the degree Venus is. And Procyon and Mars should round out the view that way, with Mars appearing somewhat orange in color compared to the brilliant white of Venus due east.
These planets will appear about in this orientation for the next week or so. Also, in the evening, check out Neptune with binoculars or a small telescope.