Saturn and Mars, both near alpha stars. How often does this happen?

Looking up in the mid-evening night sky yesterday, I noticed four planets are visible in a short time span. I mentioned Venus and Jupiter in the west, last month. They are still out there of course, a lot farther apart than they were just a few weeks ago, though.

Now it’s time for some action in the east. Mars and Saturn.

Mars is currently in Leo, to the left of Regulus, which is the alpha star. (Generally, the alpha star is the constellation’s brightest star.) Saturn is in Virgo, to the left of Spica, alpha Virginis. To find Spica, you can start at the end tail of the Big Dipper (Big Bear). “Make the arc to Arcturus (the bright red star in Bootes), and speed to Spica.” You will be tracing a flat “V” in the sky. I pasted the symbols near the planets. Saturn is the bottom one.

These are really clear from southcentral Pennsylvania. For the Kantou region of Japan, I suppose it depends on where you are. I think you might actually see some of the alpha stars in the Tokyo night sky, but you really need to know where to look. If you can see those, you should be able to see the planet nearby.

Planets travel in the same band in the sky as our Sun. So these two planets have passed these regions before. My guess is around 1982 or ’83, since it takes Saturn about 30 years to go around the sun, and Mars makes a two Earth-year orbit.

So it’s another unusual combination to enjoy for a season.

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