‹‹ Looking Up

Three AM…igos

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2min 00sec
Credit Niko Powe courtesy of earthsky.org

  This is “Looking UP! in southern Colorado,” from the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. I’m Hal Bidlack, and there are lots of reasons to look up!

Since we started this radio segment back in February, we talked about 35 different things you can see in the southern Colorado night sky. But today, let’s offer up something for the early risers – and talk about a remarkable grouping of planets visible in the Eastern predawn southern Colorado skies, say around 5 AM.

How many planets do you see? As we discussed last February, Venus is the third brightest object in the sky, only dimmer than the sun and the moon. Venus is roughly Earth-sized, but is covered in thick white clouds that reflect huge amounts of the sun’s light back into space, making it appear as a brilliant point of light. You can’t mistake it, if it’s the brightest thing, it’s Venus.

Just below Venus is the next brightest thing in the morning sky, the super planet Jupiter. The largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter could hold a thousand earths inside it. There’s even a giant hurricane storm on Jupiter, called the great red spot, that’s as big as three Earths across.

And did you notice the reddish point of light between Venus and Jupiter? That is the planet Mars. It appears red to the naked eye, if you’re away from bright city lights, because, well, Mars is rusty, literally. Its red color comes from a layer of iron oxide dust covers much of the planet.

So how far away are these three points of light? When you look at Venus, you’re looking back in toward the sun and the inner solar system, because Venus is the second planet out from the sun, and we are the third. You are then looking on out past the inner solar system to see Mars, and on to then Jupiter. So when you are out on your early morning walk, you’re seeing Venus at 26 million miles away, Mars at 48 million miles away, and Jupiter at a whopping 390 million miles away.

So how many planets did you see? The answer is four! Did you forget to count the one you’re standing on?

If you’d like to take a closer look at the planets or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit KRCC.org or CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!