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Spring Equinox marked by four-planet show

March 23, 2012

The planets might seem like they aren't aligned for Mammoth what with all the bad news recently, but they are.

Really.

In a rare event, four planets are now visible in the sable night sky this week of the Spring Equinox—Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.

Rising to the west, over Mammoth Mountain and the spires of the Minarets, is brilliant, luminous Jupiter and even brighter Venus; diamond points of light breaking the sunset’s waning glow.

To the east a few hours later over the White Mountains and Long Valley, reddish-gold Mars and gold-white Saturn dominate the sky.

All four of them are visible for a magical hour and a half each night, from about 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., according to Fleischman Planetarium Director Dan Ruby.

“If you go out and look to the west at about nine, you will see Venus and Jupiter just above the horizon,” he said. “Then, if you turn to the east, you will see Mars and Saturn. With binoculars, Venus is actually a crescent right now, which is pretty cool, and you can see four of Jupiter’s moons with binoculars, which is also pretty cool.”

After about 10:30 p.m., the planets slowly rotate out of the night sky, starting with Venus and Jupiter.

In addition to the planets, the so-called “summer constellation,” Scorpius, is back to stay after a winter-long absence, meaning spring is truly here.

Scorpius is one of the biggest constellations in the sky and when winter hits, the Giant Scorpion skeddadles right out of the picture. She can’t bear sharing the night sky with her mortal enemy, the “winter constellation” of Orion the Hunter, and so for the bulk of the winter, Scorpius is nowhere to be seen.

But a few weeks ago, she put a tentative sharp-pinchered scorpion claw up above the horizon, just as Orion was beginning to descend.

Now, she is fully visible from about 4 a.m. on, and Orion is nowhere to be seen, an eternal cycle of pursuit that marks the seasons here on Earth.

It all coincides with the Spring Equinox this year; the halfway point between the Winter and Summer Solstice. The Spring Equinox was Tuesday, and from here on, we are closer to summer than winter every day, until we hit the Summer Solstice in late June and the cycle reverses it self once again.

So go on.

Get out there.

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