Ready to dance? Then I can't think of any better celestial partner than those roaming in our own solar system! I have spent many happy hours visiting with "the neighbors", and find them an unending source of change and fascination...
Although the information that I am about to present to you is old news to the veteran observers... perhaps it will inspire you to return once again to visit with your old "friends"!
This is one terrific little target to chase down! Like Venus, Mercury follows the rising and setting sun quite closely, and displays definite phases. Since it does reside rather low in our atomosphere, the view is, more often than not, unstable. Keep your eye on the horizon line, (and on periodical publications!) to catch a glimpse of the fleet-footed inner planet. When you do take the time and effort to track it down, you'll be glad you did!! Like this, eh? ;)
Who among us has not followed the bright "star" of the evening show? Venus puts on quite a display as it moves through its' phases! How could you not want to watch as it goes from a fat crescent to a slim one?! Any type of filter (even your moon filter!) will help tone down the glare of this bright planet, and give you great pleasure as you chase her into the horizon! Boring, you say? Then I double dare you to try to catch Venus during the daylight hours! (It is possible! ;-)
Ah...Mars! What a terrific planet this is to observe! (How can you miss this red beauty?!) When conditions are right, it's mind-boggling to catch the surface detail! The dark maria are quite evident, as are the tiny "pearls" of its' polar ice caps... and light blue filter sure will go a long way to aid in observing detail, but it does wash out its' true color. Be sure to explore "The Red Warrior", and to sign up for to join the Mission To Mars! The years 2001 and 2003 means Mars is making its' best appearance to the "backyard astronomers" in the last century! Be sure to keep up with the current information at Mars Today. You'll be glad you did!!
|Jupiter||This has got to be my all-time favorite of planets. I absolutely never tire of watching Ganymede, Io, Callisto and Europa dance around the "giant"! (Who can miss that great 3-D effect, as you can tell which moons are orbiting closer or farther from our vantage point?) The equatorial belts, the loops, festoons, ovals and the "Great Red Spot" (kinda' pale pink, actually...) can keep you entranced for hours! And if that weren't enough, there are all of those great elcipse and transit/shadow events to watch too! Hands down... for me, this is the "cream" of the solar system "crop"!!|
|Saturn||Although I think that Jupiter is the "coolest"... Saturn is "da' bomb" (as the kids say)! Who doesn't want to explore that great ring system? A bit of magnification is all it takes to bring out those great ring divisions! And talk about "shadow play"... I don't know which is better! The shadow of the planet on the rings, or the shadow of the rings on the planet! For the most part, the planet itself is fairly featureless, but a dark yellow filter will help to highlight some of the atmospheric activity. And there are plenty of moons to help keep you entertained, too! The biggest majority of the time, at least one (if not two!) are constantly visible... Titan and Rhea, but during the last several months, it has been my great pleasure (when the conditions were right) to watch three little "troopers" scurrying their way along the edge of the rings! Take the time to "power up" on Saturn... you'll be glad you did!|
|Uranus||So... that brings us to Uranus. (How do YOU pronounce it? ;-) I'd love to tell you the Hubble resides in the backyard, and I have spectacular views, but the truth of the matter is, this binocular and small telescope target is pretty unremarkable. Just a greenish/blue globe hanging out in outer space! But... it does make for a challenge!|
|Neptune||And so it goes with Neptune! In the telescope it is just a pale blue/purple dot... nothing spectacular. What can I say other than I like to collect targets? And this is one that is fun to track down!|
|Pluto||You knew I'd get here sooner or later, didn't you? And your probably asking yourself... "has the astronomer really seen Pluto?" Well... the answer is YES! It took several months of determination (and a lot of starfield sketches and memorization!!) to capture this target, because it simply resembles a faint star! The only difference is.... this one moves! ;-)|
So... have you had a good time partying with the "neighbors"? I always enjoy them whenever they're around! All you have to do is know when and where to look! And if you can't see them? Why... there's all kinds of great pictures to enjoy! And if you're feeling "playful"... then try this!
And don't forget, the planets can sometimes do some very interesting things within our solar system! Such as Mercury transiting the Sun or the Moon occulting Saturn. And quite frequently, Uranus and Neptune will appear very close to other stars! Just keep an eye on those current events....
Now, my friend, let's head for the Backyard and see what else we can find... ;-)