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Mars and Saturn put on a show

See Mars, Saturn and the star Antares in a line on our sky’s dome. Photos here from the EarthSky community. Thanks to all who posted!

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 24, 2016 by Mohamed Laaifat Photographies in Normandy, France.

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 24, 2016 by Mohamed Laaifat Photographies in Normandy, France.

Over these past months, the planets Mars and Saturn – along with the star Antares in the constellation Scorpius – have made a prominent triangle on our sky’s dome. But then Mars began moving with respect to the star background, shifting rapidly eastward. It’s passing in between Saturn and Antares this week, around August 23 and 24, so that the three objects appear in a straight line in our sky. Very fun to see!

Enjoy these photos from the EarthSky community. The newer ones are closer to the top of the page. And remember that Mars and Saturn are planets, while Antares is a star. Right now, Mars is about 7 light-minutes from Earth (79 million miles, or 127 million km). Saturn is about 82 light-minutes (914 million miles, or 1,470 million km). Antares – being a star, and not an object in our own solar system – is vastly farther away at about 550 light-years.

After the Mars-Saturn conjunction on August 24, be sure to keep an eye on this trio of objects as darkness falls each night. Mars will travel farther and farther east of Saturn and Antares.

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 24, 2016 from Katharina Rast.

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 24, 2016 from Katharina Rast.

Imaginescape Photography caught the trio on August 23.

Imaginescape Photography caught the trio on August 23.

Mars, Saturn and Antares from Delfin Alagao in the Philippines.

Mars, Saturn and Antares from Delfin Alagao in the Philippines.

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 23 by Matthew Kenslow.

Mars, Saturn and Antares made a straight(ish) line on August 23. Photo by Matthew Kenslow.

Greg Hogan of Kathleen, Georgia caught this photo on August 23, with an 85mm lens.

Greg Hogan of Kathleen, Georgia caught this photo on August 23, with an 85mm lens.

Mars, Saturn, and Antares aligned over Tucson, Arizona on August 23, 2016, by Eliot Herman.

Mars, Saturn, and Antares aligned over Tucson, Arizona on August 23, 2016, by Eliot Herman.

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 23 - with some stars in the constellation Scorpius - by Dennis Chabot of  Posne NightSky Astrophotography.

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 23 – with some stars in the constellation Scorpius – by Dennis Chabot of Posne NightSky Astrophotography.

Before they were a line, they were a triangle. The photos below are in descending order, chronologically. If you look at them from the bottom up, you can see Mars get closer to the line between Antares and Saturn, and finally pass between them!

Anya Matsumoto of Malaysia created this composite. Click the photo to view it larger.

Anya Matsumoto of Malaysia created this composite over several months. Click the photo to view it larger.

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 22, 2016 by Tom Wildoner of LeisurelyScientist.com.

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 22 by Tom Wildoner of LeisurelyScientist.com.

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 21, 2016 from Azya Matsumoto in Malaysia.

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 21 from Azya Matsumoto in Malaysia. She wrote: “Every night I look up at the freckled sky and fall in love with the universe all over again.”

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 20, from Suzanne Murphy in Wisconsin.

Mars, Saturn and Antares on August 20, from Suzanne Murphy Photography in Wisconsin. See how – as you look backward in time toward the beginning of August – these objects made a triangle in our sky?

Matthew Kenslow wrote:

Matthew Kenslow, took this photo on August 17. He wrote: “Here are the planets Saturn and Mars, and the star Antares (literally translated to ‘Rival of Ares’ (Greek equivalence to Mars).”

Eliot Herman near Tucson, Arizona caught Mars, Saturn and the star Antares on the night of August 13, 2016. See how they made a nearly perfect equilateral triangle on this night? Use the chart below to identify which is which.

On August 13, the three objects made nearly an equal-sided triangle on the sky’s dome. Eliot Herman near Tucson, Arizona caught the trio that night.

Jonathan Ford in Brookline, New Hampshire captured this photo on August 9, 2016.

Jonathan Ford in Brookline, New Hampshire captured this photo on August 9, 2016.

Mars (brightest), Saturn (above) and star Antares as captured in late July, 2016 by Steve Simmerman in Vermont.

Here’s how they looked back in July, and for some months before that. Mars (brightest), Saturn (above) and star Antares as captured in late July, 2016 by Steve Simmerman.

By the way, three other planets – Jupiter, Mercury and Venus – are also up after sunset. If you see them, you’ll be seeing all five planets visible to the unaided eye from Earth. Look soon, though. Mercury will soon disappear, especially as seen from Northern Hemisphere skies (it’ll stay visible a few more week’s from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere).

Meanwhile, Jupiter and Venus are about to have a spectacular conjunction! It’ll come on August 27. Read more about the Jupiter-Venus conjunction, check out the chart below … and check back at this link later for more photos and details.

Read more in EarthSky’s guide to the bright planets

Tonight – August 27, 2016 – Venus and Jupiter will stage the year’s closest conjunction of two planets, with these worlds appearing only about 1/15th degree apart on the sky’s dome. For some perspective, 1/15th of a degree is the equivalent of 1/30th of the moon’s apparent diameter. That’s a very small span, and these two worlds will easily fit within the same binocular or telescopic field of view. Read more.

On August 27, Venus and Jupiter will stage the year’s closest conjunction of two planets, with these worlds appearing only about 1/15th degree apart on the sky’s dome. That’s about 1/7th to 1/8th of the moon’s apparent diameter. Read more.

Bottom line: Mars has been moving in between Saturn and the star Antares n the sky’s dome. On August 23 and 24, these three shining objects will make a nearly straight line on our sky’s dome. Then mark your calendar for August 27, when Jupiter and Venus – the sky’s two brightest planets – will be in conjunction.

Deborah Byrd

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