The Dance So Far — the last 25 years
Total Solar Eclipse of 1999
Looking into the Heart of Our Galaxy
How Astronomy Begat Astrology
I'm a naked eye astronomer, as were all astronomers before the invention of the telescope, four centuries ago. I love to watch the sky at night, observing the slow dance of the planets amongst the stars.
Today we get only a dim glimpse of what earlier peoples must have seen in skies free from dust pollution and, in urban areas, from the light pollution that bleaches out all but the moon and brightest stars.
Here are some things you can see in the night sky as the never-repeating, never-ending, cosmic dance continues. (Positions are for evening sky, unless otherwise stated.)
Comet ISON could be the brightest comet since the Great Comet of 1680. It should be visible from October through December, with an amazing conjunction with Mercury and Saturn on Nov 26.
Mercury is usually hard to see because its stays close to the sun. Its orbits the sun once every 88 days, and so alternates between evening sky and morning sky approximately every 6 weeks. It rises to meet Jupiter and Venus in late May.
Venus reappears in evening sky in late April, rising up to meet the descending Jupiter in a lovely triple conjunction with Mercury in late May low in the West. It will dominate the evening sky through the rest of 2013, passing Saturn on Sept 19
Mars is in the pre-dawn sky most of the summer, only appearing in the late evening sky at the end of the year.
Jupiter is bright in the evening sky in the Spring. By June it will be disappearing into sunset, after May's triple conjunction with Venus and Mercury
Saturn reappears in the evening twilight in the Spring, marching across the Summer sky, meeting Venus in the West in mid-September, and finally disappearing into the Sun;s glare in October.
Sky at a glance for current week.
NASA Solar System Simulator for a view of the planets and their moons at any time, and almost any angle.
Animated orrery Beautiful bird's view of solar system.
Quadrantids. Maximum at January 3-4
The twelve Zodiacal constellations (Taurus, Pisces, Gemini, etc.) also lie on the ecliptic -- they are the constellations the planets pass through.