If you look to the east after sunset, you will notice a bright, reddish-orange object. This is the planet Mars, 4th rock from the Sun. Less than one month ago, Mars was at opposition. This means that it is directly opposite from the Sun, as we view it. This also means that it is very bright, because it is reflecting light directly back to us. Opposition is the planetary equivalent of a full moon.
The diameter of Mars is about 4200 miles, compared to Earth’s diameter of about 8,000 miles and its mass is just 11% of Earth’s. On May 30, Mars was 47 million miles from Earth.
Mars is the ONLY other planet in our solar system where we could survive. Even then, significant protection from radiation, toxic carbon dioxide, low atmospheric pressure, and widely varying temperatures will be needed. At present, we may be able to put people on Mars by the mid 2020s.
For the summer of 2016, Mars and Saturn are relatively close together in the night sky. Saturn rises about one hour after Mars. Look for Mars, then look below and left. You should see an object with a slight golden tint. Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system after Jupiter.
The diameter of Saturn is about 72,000 miles and Saturn is 95 times more massive than Earth. Saturn is about 900 MILLION miles away from us.
The most spectacular feature of Saturn are its rings. Composed of mostly water ice, they are highly reflective. The rings are about 170,000 miles in diameter. The interactions between the rings, Saturn’s moons, and Saturn itself are highly complex.
On June 17, Saturn, Mars, and the moon all appear close together in the sky. While the moon will move on the next night in its travels, Mars and Saturn will remain close throughout the summer.
Western Slope Skies is produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Bryan Cashion.