Are you up between 6 and 6:30 AM Sunday morning (27th of February)? If so, or if you can be motivated to set the alarm, you’ve got to take a look. Earth’s three closest neighbors appear in a perfectly straight line, all together!
Do you have a window facing southeast, and have the sky clear almost all the way down to the horizon? Or, are you getting up to walk the dog (or yourself)?
Any morning between 6 and 6:30 you’ll see a single dazzling “star” down low. Brighter than any other star by far, it’s the planet Venus, also known as the Morning Star. It’s now more eye-popping than it will be for the rest of the year. But seeing it is just the appetizer, the warm-up.
Look below it and see a much less brilliant star. This is the planet Mars. To observe our two nearest planet neighbors hovering side-by-side is a rare treat. That’s because they normally lie in opposite directions. Venus’ orbit is inside of ours, nearer to the Sun, while Mars is the next planet outward of our own. So when they’re closest to us they lie in opposite directions in the sky.
Not now. Mars currently hovers at very nearly its farthest-away position, so that when we see Venus we can look three times farther away and spot Mars off in the distance. On top of that, Venus is twice the size of Mars and five times more shiny or reflective. No wonder there’s such an imbalance in their brilliance. Still, through binoculars you’ll easily see that Mars is orange, and through any small telescope Venus shows off its half Moon shape.
But with no optical aid at all, it’s still a major thrill to view those two nearest worlds posing side-by-side.
Finally, the crescent Moon joins the party to form a perfectly straight line! With the Moon lowest and dazzling and Venus at the top, you’ll see little Mars in the middle, right between them. Now we’ve got our planet’s three closest neighbors, all together!
If you’ve got — or can easily get to – an unobstructed view toward the southeast, set the alarm. But remember, their low elevation means that any hills or houses can block the spectacle. Don’t miss it this Sunday!