The world is shutting down. All the people and business that will suffer not to mention the growing number of lost lives hits right to the core. Even when the sun is up it can feel like dark clouds linger. But the corona virus has also had positive effects. It’s revealed how truly interconnected we are and inspired acts of heroic kindness. Many of us also find ourselves with extra time on our hands. I encourage you to spend some of it in nature. You can start as soon as tomorrow morning with a lovely gathering of the waning crescent moon and planets.
It’s a good thing that groups of celestial objects aren’t banned during the current pandemic. If you rise at dawn tomorrow morning (March 18) and face southeast you’ll see the thick crescent moon alongside Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Only 2.1° separate the moon from Mars and Jupiter; Saturn shines 7° further east. Not only will you get a breath of fresh air at the sight, but you’ll be reminded that beauty is everywhere, even in a crisis, and water for the soul.
Try taking a photo with your phone, and if you get something you like, send it to me, and I’ll publish it in the blog tomorrow. Tomorrow’s planetary assembly also gives us the opportunity to see Jupiter in the daytime sky. Go out after sunrise as late as 9 o’clock local time and locate the moon in the southern sky. Snare it in your binoculars, focus sharply and look for a tiny fleck of pale light to the upper right of the moon.
If you study Jupiter closely you should be able to discern that it’s not a point of light but a disk. Had you looked at Jupiter earlier in a darker sky you would have seen all four of its bright moons strung out to the right (west) of the planet in a tight, wiggly line in this order: Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto. Although the moon departs the scene the following morning the planets continue to regroup into ever-changing geometrical arrangements. On the 19th, Mars passes just shy of 1° (two moon diameters) under Jupiter, and the two will be in conjunction and closest on March 20, with a separation of just ⅔°. Owners of small telescopes will easily squeeze both planets into a low magnification field of view.
I know you’re feeling anxiety. Me too. The sky is big enough to handle it. Look up and let go.