The morning planet parade is taking shape as Saturn becomes visible in the southeast after its solar conjunction. Three bright morning planets are visible in the southeast before sunrise. During the next month, watch Mars approach and pass both planets. Each morning Mars is noticeably closer to Jupiter. Mars passes Jupiter on March 20 and Saturn, March 31. The three planets have not appeared this close in the sky for about 20 years.
On the next clear morning, look to the southeast, bright Jupiter is low in the sky. It is the brightest “star” in that part of the sky – only the sun, moon, and Venus are brighter. Dimmer Mars is to Jupiter’s upper right. As with our photograph, Saturn may be hiding near a neighbor’s house or tree, to the lower left of Jupiter.
In the sky, without a telescope, these worlds appear as bright stars. As they move through their orbits, they seem to move relative to the constellations. Historically, they were called the “wandering stars” — the “planets.” To our ancestors there were seven known wanderers — sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. They were so important that the days of the week were named for them.
After the invention of the telescope, these “stars” were first seen as separate worlds.
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