With less than a week to go until NASA’s new Mars mega-rover Curiosity launches its a great time to go outside and see the Red Planet yourself. And while you’re at it why not look for the true lord of the rings and a couple of constellations too. That’s what’s in store for skywatchers over the next few days as the moon plays celestial tag with both bright stars and planets. The only caveat is that you have to be an early bird to catch the sky show this week as all the action happens about a half hour before your local sunrise.
First up on November 19th and 20th the waning crescent moon will be passing near a star-like pair about halfway up the eastern sky at dawn. On Saturday morning the Moon will be right underneath the stellar pair. But that orange colored star is not a star at all but the planet Mars. Despite it sitting 225 million km away from our planet, you can easily see it shinning in the sky with just the naked eye. That distinctive color the fourth planet in the solar system is known for is imparted by sunlight reflecting off the iron oxide rich sand and dust that covers nearly the entire planet.
Joining Mars to its right is a bonafide star called Regulus. The lead member of the ancient constellation Leo the lion this white star sits 76 light year away and marks the heart of the king of the celestial jungle. If you get clouded out or just can’t make it out of bed on Saturday, you get a second chance on Sunday November 20th when the Moon will be to the far left of the starry pair.
By Monday, November 21st, the moon continues its trek lower in the eastern morning sky and join up with a another pair of stellar objects – this time Saturn and Spica. Saturn looks bright and is kind of creamy-yellow in color to the eye but with a small telescope you can check out its cool rings that encircle the gas giant.
While the ringed world sits a respectable 1.5 billion km from Earth, it pales in comparison to its apparent neighbor in the sky, Spica. The lead star in the constellation Virgo, it lies a whopping 260 light years distant.
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.