I am no astronomer.
But for whatever reason — maybe it’s that I found myself taking more walks after dark — it became obvious to me that I could see three planets in the sky, and none of them was Venus. And I was impressed — both by the planets, and by myself for actually having a clue what was happening in the sky. Because most of my life, I hadn’t noticed.
Mars was easy, of course. It’s red. Or reddish, anyway. I would see it soon after its rising, in the east southeast (I think; my memory on this isn’t perfect) and watch it climb to the heights. It was in the process of being impressed by this that I wrote this on Oct. 7, the night of the vice presidential debate. For whatever reason, it seemed brighter, or redder, or something that night. Basically, it was really looking very Arean:
Something far more fascinating than this debate tonight: the planet Mars, hanging up there like a reddish jack-o’-lantern above the eastern horizon. As bright as I’ve ever seen it.
— Brad Warthen (@BradWarthen) October 8, 2020
But that’s not all I had been noticing for, I think, some weeks before that. Far off to the right in the path the planets follow, I would see the brightest thing in the sky after the moon. The first night I noticed it, I told myself it was Jupiter, and when I looked it up in the little astronomical app I have on my phone, I was right! Therefore I started taking a proud, proprietorial interest in it, and looked for it each night. There it was, and next to it Saturn.
I became sort of obsessive about it. Each night when I’d start on a late walk, I’d look up and make sure they were still there. And it pleased me that they always were, although as time passed they moved farther and farther to the right each night. (On the rare nights my wife would walk with me so late, I’d point them all out: “There’s Mars! And Jupiter! And a little to the left of it, Saturn!” She was very patient with me, though.)
Then, I read that the brightest gas giants were going to put on a show on the winter solstice, coming so close together — for the first time (at night) in 800 years — that they would appear more or less to be one star. Or so it might appear to the magi looking for it two millennia ago.
I liked the story, especially since it involved my planets with which I had been so pleased in recent months. My planets, which I had so recently noticed — I mean, discovered!
When the show happened tonight, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that they hadn’t come completely together — there was about a tenth of a degree of darkness between them. Also a tad put out because they had now moved so far to the right that they’d only be visible for an hour or so before setting. And I was especially ticked at myself for not being able to line up the lens on my phone with my binoculars to get a really awesome shot.
But I still thought it was pretty cool.
Did you see it? Thoughts?