With NASA’s Curiosity Rover just over a week away from landing on Mars, why not step outside and find Mars (and Saturn thrown in for free!) thanks to the next two nights crescent Moon.
Many people are unaware that planets can easily be seen without a telescope. The trick is knowing where to look. The next two nights are an ideal time to take your first planet watching steps thanks to the Moon. Tonight just step outside once it is dark enough to see some stars and find the Moon above the North West horizon. Look at the ‘2 o’clock’ position (above and to the right of the Moon) for the first moderately bright star. Congratulations, you have found Mars. Look up higher for two more stars. The right hand one is the planet Saturn.
Tomorrow night (Wednesday 25 July 2012) you can repeat the process. Well almost as the Moon has moved on in its orbit around the Earth. Wednesday night you need to look below the Moon to find Mars and to the right and slightly above the Moon to find Saturn.
As an aside, if you have been watching Mars and Saturn over the last couple of months, you will have noticed the two planets slowly move towards each other. This motion is caused by a combination of the two planets movement in their orbits and the Earth’s faster movement in its orbit. The interesting upshot of this is that come Tuesday 14 August, Mars will actually move between Saturn and the star Spica – at least as seen from Earth. I have prepared an old fashioned flip book which you are free to download and make (free for personal and non-profit organisation use). Just go to this page and look for the ‘Mars, Saturn and Spica flip book’.