BY AMY SAYLE
If your skies are clear this Friday and Saturday evening (Feb. 20 and 21, 2015), bundle up and head outside for a striking sight: Venus and Mars will appear as a very close pair in the western early evening sky—so close together that you can stretch your arm out and cover both planets with just the tip of your little finger.
They’ll look so close together that it may even be difficult to detect dimmer Mars in the glare of super-bright Venus without using binoculars or a telescope.
On Friday evening (Feb. 20, 2015), if you can brave the cold, you get a bonus. A thin crescent Moon joins the party, appearing next to Venus and Mars.
On Saturday evening (Feb. 21, 2015), the Moon will have moved further away relative to the planets, but Venus and Mars will be at their closest separation, about 0.4 degrees apart. Try looking for them in the west about an hour after sunset.
Of course, Venus and Mars aren’t actually close together in space. They’re millions of miles apart, orbiting the Sun at different distances. The reason the two planets currently appear to be practically piled on top of each other in our sky is that they currently lie along a similar line of sight from our view on Earth.
We hoped to view this striking planet pair this Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, at a public skywatching session at Little River Regional Park. However, even though the sky will likely be clear, the session has been cancelled because the forecast calls for extreme cold.
We still hope to see Venus and Mars at their closest pairing this Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015, from 7-9 p.m., at the skywatching session scheduled at Jordan Lake (Ebenezer Church Recreation Area) – if the weather permits.
Unfortunately, at this writing, the forecast for Saturday evening doesn’t look great. Before you head out to the Jordan Lake session, please check the Morehead website for any cancellation notices.
Image #1: See if you can cover Venus and Mars with just your outstretched little finger. (Credit: Stellarium)
Image #2: When planets lie along the same line of sight from Earth’s viewpoint, they’ll look close together in the sky.