April 5, 2022: Today is a Mars – Saturn conjunction. Mars slowly passes Saturn in the eastern sky before sunrise. Morning Star Venus is to the lower left of the conjunction.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
A Mars – Saturn conjunction occurs this morning in the east-southeast before sunrise. The planet duo is 0.4° apart, looking like a “double star.” To the unaided eye, they look like stars. Mars is distinctly reddish while Saturn is golden.
Find them by looking to the east-southeast before sunrise. At 45 minutes before sunup – check local sources for your sunrise time – brilliant Venus is 10° above the east-southeast horizon. Mars and Saturn are less than 8° to the upper right of the Morning Star.
Extend your right arm, with your fist slightly tilted up to the right. Hold your hand so that your thumb knuckle is near Venus. The conjunction is nearly at your ring finger knuckle. That is about 8°, regardless of the length of your arm and the size of your fist.
Each morning Mars appears farther eastward (to the left in the northern hemisphere) of Saturn, trailing behind the faster-moving Venus.
This morning Mars is over 165 million miles away. Saturn is nearly six times that distance.
The two planets are easily located when far apart. Each alternately appears in the morning sky, then appearing after sunset. The cycles repeat after they pass behind the sun and back into the morning sky.
Saturn’s cycle of visibility lasts 378 days, while Mars’ progression is 780 days long. Successive conjunctions of Mars and Saturn occur about every two years, on average 18 days later at each conjunction for the next 18 years. The conjunctions occur closer to the sun at each meeting.
During its cycle, Saturn’s brightness is reasonably consistent. It is brighter than most stars, although considerably dimmer than Venus and Jupiter.
Mars’ brightness varies wildly over its two-year run, dim in the morning sky and brightening toward its opposition, when Earth is between the planet and the sun. Around opposition, Earth is closest to Mars. At these points, it can appear brighter than Jupiter.
This morning Saturn is slightly brighter than Mars.
From 2026 until 2038, the conjunctions occur during daytime or when the planets are near the horizon during morning or evening twilight.
At the 2024 conjunction, the planets are 37° from the sun in the morning sky and the gap between them is 0.5°. For northern hemisphere observers, they are low in the east-southeast during morning twilight. A binocular is helpful.
By the August 11, 2038, conjunction, they are visible again through a binocular low in the western sky as night falls.
By 2040, the conjunctions are occurring during evening twilight. This is the year of the next Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. During September, the five bright planets are visible in the western sky leading up to the outer planet conjunction on October 31.
While the planets are visible separately, the conjunctions are becoming more difficult to observe.
There’s more to see in the sky today. Happy sky watching!
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