|Merrillville Community Planetarium|
|Bringing the Universe to the Merrillville Schools and Northwest Indiana|
Five Planets Visible After Sunset
willgreg | Monday, March 22, 2004 - 11:00pm
All five planets that can be seen with the naked eye are visible during the early evening over the next two weeks. Observers should look on clear evenings just as the sky becomes dark following sunset. Venus appears as the brightest “star” in the western sky and Jupiter appears as the brightest “star” in the east. Saturn appears moderately bright and very high in the southern sky. Mercury is moderately bright, but low in the western sky. Mars is the least bright and slightly reddish in color and located above and to the left of Venus.
Sunset occurs just after 6:00 p.m. Between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m., the sky becomes dark enough that the planets and bright stars become visible. The planets can be recognized by their brightness and position in the sky. Venus is the brightest planet and will be easily seen in the west as the sky becomes dark. Jupiter is the second brightest planet and will become visible in the eastern sky. Saturn will look like a bright star high in the sky almost due south. Once Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn become visible, an observer can draw an imaginary line through the three planets. The two remaining planets – Mars and Mercury – will also appear along that imaginary line.
Mars is the least bright planet, but still appears brighter than most stars. Many people can see a red or orange tint when they observer Mars. Mars is located above and the left (east) of Venus. Mercury is slightly brighter than Mars, but may be harder to find. Mercury will be low in the western sky and is often hidden in the fading light of sunset or blocked by clouds or trees near the horizon. Binoculars work well for distinguishing between the planets and stars. Through binoculars and telescopes, stars will still look like stars, but planets will appear as discs or circle shapes.
In order to see all five planets, you must observe the sky before Mercury sets around 7:30 p.m. Venus sets just after 10:00 p.m. and Mars follows about one hour later. Saturn and Jupiter are visible all night long, but they will move from east to west across the sky. After the first of April, Mercury will be lower in the sky each night and will become increasingly difficult to observe.
The moon will pass between and near the planets over the next two weeks. The moon rises about one hour later each night and its phase gradually changes. The moon begins as a thin crescent tonight, becomes first quarter on March 28, and approaches full on April 5. Here is a night-by-night summary of the moon and planets’ positions:
For more information on the planets, contact the planetarium at (219) 650-5486 or visit our website at www.mcpstars.org. The Merrillville Community Planetarium is located in Clifford Pierce Middle School at 199 East 70th Avenue in Merrillville, Indiana