Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2002 April 18
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Planets in the West
Credit & Copyright: John French (Abrams Planetarium, MSU)

Explanation: Have you seen any bright planets lately? Chances are if you've been outside under clear skies just after sunset, then you have. Now shining in the west as bright "stars" in the night sky, are all five planets of the solar system known to ancient astronomers - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. Recorded from Holt, Michigan, USA about 40 minutes after sunset on April 14th, this digital image captures three of them, Venus, Mars, and Saturn, along with a young crescent Moon. Also indicated are the Pleiades star cluster and bright red giant star Aldebaran in Taurus. Mercury, setting, is lost in the trees and glow along the horizon, while Jupiter is off the top of this view. The coming weeks will see photo opportunities galore as all five planets gradually move closer together, posing after sunset with the Moon and stars in the western sky. Venus, Mars, and Saturn will form the closest trio, drawing within a 5 degree circle (about the apparent size of your fist with arm extended) above Aldebaran by May 3rd.

Tomorrow's picture: Earthlighting

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
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& Michigan Tech. U.