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.

December 4, 1997
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download 
 the highest resolution version available.

A Sky Full Of Planets
Credit: T. Bridgman ( GSFC and Greenbelt Astronomy Club), Carina Software

Explanation: Look up tonight. Just after sunset, the crescent moon and all five "naked-eye" planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) will be visible (depending on your latitude), lying near our solar system's ecliptic plane. Venus and Jupiter will shine brilliantly as the brightest "stars" in the sky, but Mercury will be near the horizon and hard to see. A pair of binoculars will also reveal Uranus and Neptune and observers with a telescope and a good site may even be able to glimpse faint Pluto just above the Western horizon in the fading twilight (not shown on the chart above). Enjoy this lovely spectacle any clear night through about December 8. A similar gathering is expected in May 2000 but the planets will be hidden from view by the solar glare. A night sky as full of planets as this one will occur again though ... in about 100 years.

Tomorrow's picture: Seeing Through Galaxies

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