The night sky of August 2012 has an interesting conjunction for amateur naked-eye astronomers.
The planets Mars and Saturn and the star Spica appear close together in the western sky just after twilight. This “Martian Triangle” will be visible from most of the earth.
Go to Star Maps to download a star map for August 2012 to help you find the sky objects that I mention in this post.
The Spica-Mars-Saturn conjunction will be above the western horizon shortly after twilight. If you wait too long, the trio will set below the horizon. Here is how to find it.
First find the most well-known constellation of all, the Big Dipper, in the northwestern sky.
Follow the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle to the south to find the bright star Arcturus (Arc to Arcturus). Arcturus, in the constellation Boötis, is the 3rd brightest individual star in the night sky after Sirius and Canopus.
“Spike” south from Arcturus to Spica (Spike to Spica). Spica, a binary star, is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. Virgo is the 2nd largest constellation and is low in the western sky in August 2012.
This web page has a diagram showing how to “arc” from the Big Dipper to Arcturus and then “spike” to Spica.
On Friday Aug 10 the trio will form a right triangle with Mars at the right angle at the lower right. Spica will be on the left, and Saturn is at the top of the triangle.
Mars will have a reddish tinge. Only the moon, Venus, and Jupiter are brighter in the night sky.
If you have a telescope, you can see the polar ice caps on Mars. Look for a thin band of white along the outer edge of Mars – you’re looking at a huge swath of ice, more than enough ice to cool your house all summer long if you could get it.
Saturn is the second largest planet in the Solar System after Jupiter. If you have a telescope, you can see Saturn’s rings. Saturn has 9 main rings and 62 moons. The largest moon Titan is larger than the planet Mercury and has its own atmosphere.
During August Mars will travel to the left moving between Saturn and Spica. On Tuesday Aug 14, Mars will pass between Saturn and Spica so that the three will be almost perfectly aligned in a straight line. Mars will continue to move on to the left each night, distancing itself from Saturn and Spica.
The first half of this 4-minute YouTube NASA video describes and illustrates the Spica-Mars-Saturn conjunction.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host…For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.
Soli Deo Gloria.
©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3)
Thursday August 9, 2012 A.D.
Read my July 2012 newspaper column:
Friday the 13th
Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name. Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26)