ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — If you find yourself out late or up early this week, be sure to glance up and catch nearly half the solar system lighting up the night sky. Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will all be visible at different times overnight the week of October 3.
What should you look for?
Planets can often be mistaken for stars that appear much brighter than all the others around them. If an object in the sky seems suspiciously bright — and isn’t the moon — odds are its a planet that’s come into view. This week, to make sure what you’re looking at is actually a planet, here’s where and when to be looking:
- Best viewed in the early morning about an hour before sunrise, to find it look east and just above the horizon, it should be the brightest object in the sky
- It will reach it’s highest point above the horizon on October 8
- Visible after 10 p.m. EDT, will rise from the horizon looking northeast and travel east through the night
- Look for a reddish dot, it will be brighter than most stars, and will continue to get brighter each night through the beginning of December
- After sunset look high above the horizon to the south and southwest and look for a golden dot
- Saturn will fall back below the horizon at 2 a.m. EDT so be sure to get a glimpse of this before you head to bed
- Will rise above the horizon just before sunset, look to the east early in the evening for the best viewing
- Jupiter will travel westerly across the nights sky, reaching its highest point above the horizon in the southwest sky at around 12:30 a.m. EDT each morning before setting on the western horizon around sunrise
Why can I see anything in space with the naked eye?
Space is vast, generally so vast it’s hard to comprehend. So the fact that we’re able to see anything with the naked eye is fairly incredible. Why we can see the stars is an easy one, just like our own sun they produce their own light that travels through space and eventually reaches Earth allowing us to see them. The stars visible in our own sky are part of the Milky Way galaxy, primarily in the Orion Spur, and comprise an area of about 10,000 light years centered on our sun.
As for the planets, they are much, much, closer than any of the stars that we see every night, but unlike the stars they don’t produce their own light. In this case, the process is very similar to why we can see the moon. The planets reflect light from the Sun and since they are a lot closer than the distant stars they often appear brighter since the light that is reflected off of them doesn’t have to travel as far.
Planets look the largest and the brightest in the night sky when they reach opposition, or when the Earth is in between the Sun and the planet in question. During these periods planets are as close to Earth as they can be thus, much like a super moon, appear brighter and larger in the night sky.
Only certain planets can be in opposition though, these include Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (even though officially not a planet anymore it can still be in opposition). The reason why is simply because their orbits around the Sun are wider than Earths. Mercury and Venus are closer to the sun than the Earth and as a result cannot have the Earth between them and sun to achieve opposition.