Burning bright

Be sure to look up in the sky this week.

Through at least Friday night, Mars and Saturn will appear closer to one another in the constellation Libra, just to the west of the head of Scorpius, the giant scorpion.

So check out the rare sight of gold and red right next to each other.

“Both planets will appear very bright in the sky,” said Rozlyn Reiner, a Kauai astronomy resource educator. “Saturn will be north (above) Mars and will appear to have a golden hue, while Mars will appear a ruddy reddish.”

James R. Dire, who holds a Ph.D. in planetary science from Johns Hopkins University and is the vice chancellor for academic affairs at Kauai Community College, said the best time to see the planets this week will be around 9 p.m. Mars and Saturn, he said, will be in the southwest around 25 degrees above the horizon.

“Both planets are equal in brightness and are currently the brightest objects in Libra. Saturn lies up and to the right of Mars. Their separation is increasing every night as Mars races eastward against the background stars,” Dire said. “It’s just cool seeing two naked-eye solar system objects so close together in the sky.”

Reiner explained the reason for the occurrence.

“What’s happening is that Saturn takes 29 years to orbit the sun, so it will be in Libra for a long time. Mars, in its smaller orbit, takes 687 days to orbit the sun, so it is literally bypassing Saturn on its motion along the ecliptic into the next constellation, Scorpius,” Reiner said.

Dire said the planetary lineup won’t happen again until Aug. 21, 2016.

“The biggest event upcoming is the total lunar eclipse the night of Oct. 7, morning of Oct. 8,” Dire said. “The middle of the eclipse occurs around 1 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time, the morning of Oct. 8. This should be a spectacular eclipse as the moon will be very high overhead during the total eclipse phase.”


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