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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Planets Parade at Dusk, June 27-28

As if to celebrate the change of the seasons, four of our solar system's bright planets are putting on a parade at dusk during the last week of June. One of them — giant Jupiter — gleams brilliantly low in the south as it gets dark. You can't miss it; it's the brightest point of light in the sky these evenings. You might easily overlook the other three worlds — Mercury, Mars, and Saturn — which are much fainter and setting in the west-northwest during twilight. Thankfully the waxing crescent moon comes to the rescue, pointing the way to the planetary trio. And your eyes are all you need to enjoy the spectacle — no telescope required!

The best nights to watch the planet parade are Tuesday and Wednesday, June 27 and 28. After dinner, go outside and find a spot with a clear horizon to the west-northwest, where the sun sets at this time of year. By about 45 minutes after sundown, you should be able to spot the very thin crescent moon to the upper left of where the sun set. Don't look too high up; the moon will stand low over the horizon, by no more than the width of your outstretched hand seen at arm's length. Read more here.