The Devil's Triangle: Spring's Most Dramatic Planet Event

Devil's Triangle
www.beckstromobservatory.com

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The Devil’s Triangle is a striking sky event which will be present in the night sky for the next month. 

It begins at around 1:30 AM.  Unless you’re in your teens or twenties, you’ll probably sleep through it.  But here’s why it’s worth setting an alarm.

Look south. From then until daybreak, a striking triangle dominates the southern sky. It’s not high up but neither is it too low down to be blocked.  The stars on the triangle’s right side are a dramatic orange color—with the topmost one being the brightest by far.  The star on the triangle’s left side is essentially creamy white.

You can look for the triangle at your leisure.  The main way it will change is that the topmost star will get even more dazzling as April turns to May.

  • That orange star at the top is the planet Mars.  It is approaching us rapidly. Every second it’s about 10 miles closer.  By late next month it will be brighter and nearer to us than any time in the last decade. 
  • The white star on the lower left is Saturn.  It’s arguably the best target for any backyard telescope.  The only negative issue it ever has, is that most people can’t locate it.  Well, now you can.
  • The final member of the triangle is the lower right star. This orange giant is the famous Antares, the brightest star of Scorpius.  Its very name means ” the rival of Mars”—and during this month and next you can see why, since their colors match perfectly. 

Mars comes close to Earth every two years plus two months, but it happens with the “Red Planet” in various constellations over the years. The last time Mars came near us while in Scorpius, and alongside Antares, was in 1969! That was 47 years ago. So this is a special celestial occurrence. To have Saturn join them is icing on the cake.

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As for that “Devil’s Triangle” business, well, we astronomers aren’t superstitious, but many ancient cultures regarded Scorpius as one of the dangerous star patterns; in mythology, it killed Orion, for example, while Mars is the god of war. We still retain that in our language when we speak of a “court martial” or “martial arts.”

To have them meet like this is pretty dramatic. Whether that’s worth setting the alarm and looking toward the south, well, that’s up to you.

~ By  Bob Berman

About This Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s blog on stargazing and astronomy. Wondering which bright objects you’re seeing in the night sky? Want to learn about a breathtaking sight coming up? Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, we’ll cover everything under the Sun (and Moon)!

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Origin of Devil's Triangle Name

Two questions: can you provide other references to the usage of the Devil's Triangle in this configuration (Mars, Saturn, Antares)? Also, when will this triangle repeat? Saturn's year is 29 Earth years. I looked ahead that far and could not see a repeat. I'll be dead in 441 weeks (FEB 2025) so I would like to see it again before I become part of the fossil record.

Devil's Triangle

Hi James -

The expression is original, and seems quite appropriate for the reasons stated. To answer your question about “next time,” when Saturn is next near Antares in 2045 and 2046, Mars will be nowhere in sight. And when Mars meets Antares in 2048, Saturn will have moved on into eastern Sagittarius. So enjoy this one: it’s rare.

 - Bob Berman

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