During morning twilight, the sky is ablaze with Venus, Mars, Sirius, and bright stars.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
The late August morning sky is on fire with Venus, Mars, and several bright stars. In the image above, Venus appears in the eastern sky with Castor, Pollux, Procyon, Sirius, Betelgeuse, and Castor. Now two weeks after its first appearance in the morning sky, Sirius is easy to locate in the east-southeast.
The Red Planet is high in the southern sky among the dim stars of Pisces. The planet continues to brighten as Earth approaches it. Mars is less than 47 million miles away this morning.
Mars continues its eastward march among the stars. On September 9, Mars seems to end its eastward direction and appears to move westward compared to the stars, in what is known as retrograde motion. This is an illusion from our faster moving world overtaking a slower moving Mars and passing between the Red Planet and the sun, known as opposition (October 13, 2020).
Additionally, Mars orbit is not a perfect circle. A week before opposition, Earth and Mars are closest when they are about 39 million miles apart. Even at this distance, Mars looks like an overly bright star in the sky.
In the photo above, Mars is 1.6° to the upper left of Nu Piscium (ν Psc) and 2.7° below Omicron Piscium (ο Psc). East is to the left in the image, Mars continues to move eastward past ν Psc before it begins to retrograde. When Earth and Mars are closest, the Red Planet appears near μ Psc.
Farther east, Venus sparkles from in front of the stars of Gemini. It continues stepping eastward compared to the starry background. This morning it is to the lower right of Pollux. On the photo, the planet is 4.2° below Delta Geminorum (δ Gem) and 5.0° to the lower left of Lambda Geminorum (λ Gem).
Tomorrow morning, Venus makes a wide pass (8.6°) of Pollux. Early next month, the planet moves into Cancer and a nice grouping with the moon and the Beehive star cluster on September 14. It’s another camera-ready morning to see.
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