This week, the moon will creep up to the two most giant planets in the Solar System as they take on the spotlight in the night sky. The ringed planet Saturn and the colossus of the solar system, Jupiter, will take turns giving skywatchers a glimpse of their beauty.
The moon will be at its waxing gibbous phase to join the spectacle, looking brilliant to dazzle skywatchers as it is 83% sunlit and shines one-third during its full moon phase. Most notable is its terminator region, a part of the Moon where the light and dark zones are separated. Meanwhile, its lower part will cast shadows of craters that will make them dramatically stand out.
What to Expect in This Week's Planetary Doubleheader
Saturn and the Moon
According to Space.com, the moon will move up toward Saturn on Thursday night, September 16. The ringed planet will be five degrees above the moon by then and appear like a bright star with a yellowish-white glow.
People can view this magnificent sky show at around 10 pm local daytime time as they look at the southern part of the sky this week. Meanwhile, skywatchers can see the best views of the planet using telescopes with an eyepiece of at least 30-power to see Saturn's rings.
Skywatching columnist and veteran meteorologist Joe Rao wrote in Space.com that only use moderate magnification instead of the highest power, magnifying turbulence and making the image quiver or boil. He recommends using a 3-inch telescope that has 75-power, or a 6-inch telescope with a 150-power, or a 10-inch telescope with 250-power.
Rao reminds people that the display on Thursday night is just an illusion and that the Moon and Saturn are nowhere near each other. The two cosmic bodies are thousands of miles away from each other and Earth.
Jupiter and the Moon
Friday, September 17, the following night, will showcase Jupiter and the moon about half an hour after sunset. Located at the east-northeast sky, the waxing gibbous Moon will widen by 91%, while Jupiter will also shine brightly at the upper left of the Moon.
The biggest planet in the Solar System and the Earth's closest neighbor will keep each other's company as they move across the night sky. Like Saturn, Jupiter is best observed using a telescope.
Rao wrote that large telescopes would help skywatchers see the cloud belts of Jupiter that sometimes appear disturbed. Skywatchers would need a good quality telescope, a good environment for skywatching, and patience in observing the planet.
Jupiter and Saturn Great Conjunction
According to NASA, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei saw Jupiter and its four moons in 1610 while pointing his telescope to the night sky. Galileo also saw Saturn in that same year. These discoveries have changed astronomy and how people view the Solar System.
Then in 1623, the planets were observed to have traveled together across the sky, wherein Jupiter was seen passing Saturn, an astronomical event that scientists call the Great Conjunction.
The last Great Conjunction of the two largest planets in the Solar System happened last year, an end-of-year treat known popularly as the "Christmas Star." It was exceptional planetary conjunction visible on the night sky for two weeks as Jupiter and Saturn some together, culminating on December 21.
Time and Date reported that the next Great Conjunction will be on November 2, 2040, and another on April 7, 2060.
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