It is pure providence that here in the solar system that the Earth is not the only planet. While some of the larger planets play the benefit of clearing out major debris, from the perspective of our home, these celestial bodies form an amazing variation to the eternal night sky. Before humanity had the knowledge of what the true nature of these bodies were, it was believed that the planets were wanderers of the sky since over the course of a few months, they move and over longer periods of time the planets can even appear to speed up and slow down.
Of course, common knowledge claims that this cosmic dancing is a consequence of a heliocentric system and instead of mystical wanderers (the Greek word for wanderer is planet), these heavenly bodies are in fact gigantic worlds of their own. Regardless of what they are, their movement through time has captivated and inspired generations of myth-makers and scientists.
As it stands, depending upon owned viewing devices, a majority of the solar system is available for viewing pleasure. As this column focuses on easily accessible features, the three main planets that will be covered are Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn.
Jupiter can easily be seen throughout most of the night, though differentiating it from Sirius can be difficult without prior knowledge of the sky. Both Jupiter and Sirius can be seen as bright outliers in a field of dimmer sources, with Jupiter to the west and Sirius to the east. Jupiter is the largest planet in the known solar system and is particularly famous for its banded cloud formations that can be seen through even a modest telescope. Surrounding the planet are the four moons Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Each moon holds mysteries and wonders that may help our understanding of the solar system.
Venus on the other hand is much more Earth-like, though it would not be apparent by just looking at it. Instead of lush forests and beautiful oceans, Venus has hot magmatic plains interrupted by towering volcanoes. The sky is filled with greenhouse gases and because of some ancient impact, a day takes longer than a year on the planet. Due to the marvels of engineering and materials, we have actually landed several probes on this planet, though sadly, every picture reveals empty lifeless volcanic fields.
Venus can be found rising a few hours before the Sun and through specialized methods it is possible to see it during the daytime sky.
Finally if you find yourself driving to school before the sun rises, high to the east there is what appears to be a medium magnitude star that is brighter than all of its neighbors. This point of light is truly the gem of the solar system as it is the ringed planet Saturn. Saturn is a gas giant much like Jupiter, but instead of having bands of clouds to set it apart, it has a truly breath taking set of rings that can be seen through a normal telescope. It is an unbelievable sight to behold. Nestled near the planet is the hydrocarbon rich moon Titan that may also play an important role in the future of our species.
While there are many more objects in the sky, these will be covered next semester as the skies continue to progress towards the luscious spring constellations. Peace and may the stars shine brightly in your skies.
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