Find a Planet

This is a project to send home with the children, unless you are meeting with your class some evening when it is dark.

All five of the planets known to the ancients appear as bright stars in the sky, but some are brighter and easier to find than others. Also, as the planets go through their orbits, each with its own period, and as the Earth goes through its yearly cycle, the planets appear in different parts of the sky and at different times of the night, so you have to know when and where to look.

If the planet is up and visible in the sky, the ease of finding is roughly in this order (for more information on what the planet would look like in a telescope, click on the planet):

When looking for a planet from a city location, look for a bright star-like object, but watch it for a few minutes to see that it does not move. There are many airplanes with lights flying around the area. Planets do not twinkle as much as stars do, but this may be difficult to tell from a city location.

Fall 1997 is planet time!: Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn all look good in a low power telescope.

Venus is easily visible in dusk as the evening star. Venus starts to get interesting in a low power telescope in November.

Jupiter is low in the southeast in early fall moving into the southwest as the evening and the season gets later. You can't miss Jupiter; it is very bright. Jupiter is visible in the evening through December.

Saturn follows about five hours behind Jupiter rising in the southeast, moving to mid high in the south as the evening and season gets later. Saturn is visible in the evening through February.

Mars is fading. It is visible as a second magnitude red star is the southwest through October. Mars is too far away to look interesting in a telescope.

I have listed the planets visible in the early evening, as soon as it is fully dark, when children are likely to be looking. For more information on where the planets are during the rest of the night, see a more complete monthly calendar.

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