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When the Planets Align

Venus, Saturn and the moon make for a beautiful sight, but don’t read too much into it

Twilight Thursday and Friday reveals dazzling Venus low in the west with much fainter Spica less than two degrees below. Look for Saturn a dozen degrees above and to the left of this pairing.
    In the half-hour following sunset Saturday, an ever-so-thin nascent crescent moon joins the party, hovering just above the western horizon to the lower right of Venus and Spica. To spot it, you will need good timing, an unimpeded view and maybe even binoculars.
    Sunset Sunday finds the moon a little higher in the west, and now it is less than one degree away from Venus. They create a beautiful pair and are close enough that both will appear within the eyepiece of small telescopes and binoculars. Adding to the picture that evening, Saturn hovers three degrees above Venus. There should be no confusing the two planets, as Venus blazes at –4.5 magnitude, while Saturn, at –1.1 magnitude, shines more like a bright star. Catch this group while you can, because the moon and Venus set by 8:30pm, leaving ringed Saturn following a half-hour in their wake.
    These three objects look close in the sky, with the moon dwarfing the other two. In reality, however, the moon is the smallest of the bunch, about one-quarter the size of earth. Venus is close to the size of earth, while Saturn is almost 10 times the size of earth. The moon looks so big and shines so bright because it is so close, roughly 250,000 miles away compared to Venus at 25 million miles and Saturn at a whopping 750 million miles away!
    While astrologers place great import on these conjunctions, they are more sightly than significant and purely a matter of our earth-bound perspective. The moon and planets, as well as the constellations of the zodiac, appear to travel the same path through our skies, and thus they come together fairly often.