SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — This week we get to enjoy not only five (yes five!) planets in our night’s sky all at once, we also get see the Geminids meteor shower. While we are dealing with a mostly cloudy sky right now, the sky will clear through the night. This will help give us some ample viewing time tomorrow evening into Wednesday.
5 Planets Visible in the Sky
We typically get to enjoy one or two planets at once in our night sky throughout the year. It is unique for us to see five planets in our sky all at once: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. It is a treat we get to enjoy this evening through the end of the month.
You’ll want to look around the southern sky in the evening hours, just after sunset. From lowest to highest in the sky, you’ll find Venus and Mercury along the horizon, Saturn jumps to mid sky with Jupiter just above it. Mars will be the highest and a little further out to the east. Mars, being the red planet, will have a red glow or tint.
Because of how low to the horizon Venus and Mercury will be, they will end up being the trickiest planets to find. Mercury is the closest planet to the sun (37 million miles away) with Venus following right behind it. Mercury tends to get lost in the Sun’s glow while it is rising and setting. Later this month, Mercury will be easier to see.
Uranus isn’t in the lineup this week, but it is viewable at times during the year. The only planet not viewable with the naked eye is Neptune. It is just too far away. This icy planet is 2.8 billion miles away from the Earth and it takes four hours for the sun’s light to reach the surface of the planet. When Neptune is in our sky, you will need a telescope to see it.
Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak,
Not only do we get the pleasure of five planets visible in the night’s sky this week, we also get to see the Geminids meteor shower peak Tuesday night into Wednesday. Expect up to 120 meteors per hour Tuesday night. The only issue will be the moon. It will be in its Waning Gibbous phase, which means 84% of the moon will be illuminated. The radiance from the moon’s light will take away some of the meteor shower.
However, if you find a dark enough spot away from light pollution, you’ll be able to see more. You’ll want to look towards the Gemini Constellation as the point of radiant. These meteors tend to be bright and quick moving with the peak time to see a meteor around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning. Meteors come in spurts, so expect a lull at times.
One cool fact about the Geminids meteor shower (besides it already being super cool) is that the meteors don’t come from a comet like most meteor showers. Geminids come from an asteroid. The 3200 Phaethon asteroid takes 1.4 years to orbit the sun. And during that time, the Geminids are always a star-gazers crowd favorite to see during the year.
While today is mostly cloudy with limited sunshine, clouds will thin out tonight and will help us have clearer skies by Tuesday night.