Skywatch: Look for Venus and Mercury as Earth hits a milestone this week

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If you’re out over the next few weeks, you’ll have a good shot at finding Mercury. The planet whips around the sun every 88 days. On Monday evening, you can find it and Venus in the western sky. Spot the two closest planets to the sun a little more than an hour after sunset. Venus will be the brighter of the two looking like a bright star with Mercury just below and right of it. You’ll need a good view of the horizon to get the best show.

As I mentioned in last week’s Skywatch, catching Saturn is very easy right now. Just look in the southeastern sky at around 9:45 p.m. It’ll shine brightly and if you have a small telescope, use it to observe the ringed planet. You’ll never look at it the same again.

The Last Quarter Moon arrives early Friday morning at 3:51 a.m. Look for the half-moon if you’re up early on Friday or just wait to find it Friday night.

Courtesy: NOAA

On Friday afternoon, our planet reaches a big milestone. Earth is at Aphelion at 12:47 p.m. that day. To understand what aphelion is, we need to remember that the Earth’s orbit is not a perfect circle. It’s actually an ellipse with the sun as one of its foci. As a result, there are times when the sun is closer and farther away from the sun. The aphelion is when the Earth is at its farthest point from the sun (as opposed to the perihelion, which happens in January).

That’s when we’ll be 94.5 million miles from our star. This underscores how important the tilt of the Earth is in dictating the seasons. We’re farthest away from the sun during the hottest time of the year and closest to it in the dead of winter. But the angle at which the sun strikes the Earth is higher and more direct this time of year hence the warmer weather. Happy hunting!