Science

Searching the Sky: Planets Everywhere

David Baumgartner writes that stargazers will have a chance to see seven planets this month.
David Baumgartner in an observatory in his old backyard. Photo provided by David Baumgartner.
David Baumgartner in an observatory in his old backyard. Photo provided by David Baumgartner.

This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.

Astronomers are all excited about the seven major planets that will be visible this month. But wait a minute, all seven? First off you think, but there are nine planets. Then you remember that poor Pluto got demoted a while back to an ice planet along with the other small ice planets and larger asteroids in our solar system, mainly because of its size and composition. O.K., I’m good with that, you say. But wait, we are still missing one. Which planet is missing in the sky this month? We have Mercury, Venus, and Mars—the rocky planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—the gas giants—all visible this month. A good trick question for your astronomy buddies at night while you are searching for planets is ask them, how many planets are out tonight? Then you add one more to their list. Most of them will bet the bank that they are correct. Just about everyone misses the most important one: Earth. Maybe not in the sky from our view, but nonetheless within sight of us. Good luck making them pay up. It must be a boring month for astronomy if I have to start off the article with this story. I think being cooped up has made my mind somewhat soft. At least I have something to blame it on.

O.K., let’s find these seven or eight planets, maybe this will help: Mercury is in a great location in the evening following the Sun as it sets in the first two weeks of this month. Remember, they don’t call this planet Mercury for nothing. If you don’t find it in the first two weeks you will miss this speedy little planet altogether as it travels behind the Sun. 

Venus will pop up in the morning sky one hour before sunrise. Jupiter and Saturn stand roughly 5° apart all summer. Watch on the night of the eight when the Moon comes within 2° and 3° from both gassy giants. Mars is growing larger every night waiting for what appears to be a great showing by late 2020. Keep an eye on it as it grows in appearance. This close view happens every two years when Earth catches up to Mars’ orbit for a very close look. Uranus and Neptune can be seen with binoculars, completing a rich planetary tour.

If you were thinking about upgrading to a larger telescope aperture, now is the time to do it, so make sure you can really enjoy the up and coming night sky views for the rest of the year.

The nights are getting warmer, which really brings out the fair weathered viewers. This includes most of my fellow amateur astronomers. You know which ones you are. I may even be one of them. Get out there have fun and see who can find that eighth planet.

Clear skies.

June Night Watch 

June 5: Full Moon

June 8: Moon passes 2° south of Jupiter

June 8: Moon passes 3 ° south of Saturn

June 12: Mars passes 1.7° south of Neptune

June 12: Moon passes 4° south of Neptune

June 12: Moon passes 3° south of Mars

June 13: Last Quarter Moon

June 14: Moon is at apogee (251,404 miles)

 

David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. Collage (Now Gavilan). Then joined the US Air Force where I specialized in Airborne Radar. Married my high school sweetheart JoAnne., shortly after three children arrived; Cindi, Michael, and Lisa. Somehow we ended up with nine Grandchildren.  Went on to San Luis Obispo, Guesta, Collages, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonvile, and Hollister. The family spent two and a half years running a ranch up in Oregon. Made our way back to Hollister.  Got my Real Estate Licence in 1982, opened my own office in 93'. In the mean time raised Swans and revitalized my old hobby of Astronomy.  In 2001 I was named Chamber of Commence Man of the Year. I think I was the only one nominated. I don't care, I'm taking it. Now in December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. Non the less, I am retired, at 77 years of age I think it was time. Now the last thing I have to do is buy a coffin. I hear COSCO sells them now. But the only drawback is; you have to buy them in lots of six.  I guess I could buy them for the whole family. Not that funny, but thrifty.