“Four for Nine” Star Log: April 2, 2010

There are nine planets in our solar system (Yes, I said nine! You got a problem with it?)  Of those, I have viewed six; Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn (Surprisingly, Earth is best observed with the naked eye or a microscope)  Most nights will bring one or two planets into view; tonight, however brought four.  The first two are Mars and Saturn, easy to pick out and high overhead as the hours grow late into the evening.  The other two, are much more difficult because of their close proximity to the Sun.  This makes them viewable in small windows of time throughout the year either directly after sunset in the West or soon before sunrise in the East.  These two planets are Mercury and Venus.  Since I enjoy sleep, I try to view these two planets whenever it is possible following sunset.  Tonight would be one of those windows of opportunity.  With Alston and Abby visiting the college for the night, a quick view of Mercury and Venus would be in order before a night of wild partying and crazy antics.

Mercury & Venus
As Abby, Alston and I were walking around the campus on a beautiful Friday evening, Venus popped out from the darkening blue sky, faintly revealing itself amidst some light clouding near the horizon.  Walking back around to the telescope set up next to the Administration building, Mercury appeared in the sky, slightly to the South East of Venus’ position.  The views of these two planets were largely unimpressive because of their low levels on the horizon, the telescope not having proper time to cool down and their positioning right over a building’s roof that was releasing heat.  The best resolutions of these two planets on this night, revealed nothing more than wavy blobs of light.  None the less, this was my first observation of Venus and Mercury on the same night, and that in and of it self is a rare occurrence.

Update: Two nights later on Easter Sunday, I was able to view Mercury and Venus once again, this time from my parents home in Clifton Forge.  Conditions were much better for observing on this night allowing Mercury to reveal itself as a small crescent moon looking object.  This detail in Mercury really surprised me and although the images of it and Venus, which is currently not showing much of a shadow, were still a bit wobbly from the atmosphere and heat rising from roofs of houses and the street, being able to make out discs for both and shadow detail on Mercury was pretty amazing!

Visual Representation of Mercury and Venus’ Position:

Following Mercury and Venus, we came back out a few hours later to observe Mars and Saturn, making that four out of nine planets viewed in one night.  Getting to hangout with Alston and Abby was a blast.  When I asked them what movie they wanted to watch Abby said “How ’bout Star Trek” to which I thought to myself “Awesome”.  We went to Sheetz later in the night with Alston and Abby ordering a double bacon biscuit (mmm…bacon).  A few games of “Modern Warfare 2” and “Little Big Planet” later it was time to call it a night.

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