If you’ve already been tuning in to “THE ANCIENT YOUTH” on Living Aligned Radio, then you already know there’s a WHOLE LOT going on right now in the heavens up above . . . Here’s more of the latest in the planetary news! Let’s kick it off with our friends Rick and Jeff over at Planet Pulse!
Today’s Planet Pulse
And did you hear about the asteroid that had a “pass by” Earth today? Here’s more on THAT story . . .
Watch or participate in asteroid 1998 QE2 flyby today
|Asteroid 1998 QE2 will pass about 15 times the moon’s distance. Several organizations are looking at it, and you can join the fun.|
Today – May 31, 2013 – a 1.7-mile-long asteroid called 1998 QE2 will sail safely past Earth at a distance of about 3.6 million miles (5.8 million kilometers). That’s about 15 times the moon’s distance. This object is not a hazardous asteroid, and the May 31 asteroid flyby is safe. Closest approach happens today at 1:59 p.m. Pacific (4:59 p.m. Eastern / 20:59 UTC). This is the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries. NASA is already watching with its Goldstone radar telescope and has invited the public to online and television events that began yesterday (May 30) and continue today. Experts are discussing NASA’s asteroid initiative and showing real-time images of the May 31 Earth flyby of asteroid 1998 QE2. Plus the Slooh Space Camera will try to capture the asteroid as it sweeps past. Details on how you can participate below. All activities listed for May 31, 2013.
Virtual Telescope Project beginning at 4 p.m. EDT / 2000 UTC. “Asteroid 1998 QE2 close encounter.” Click here for the Virtual Telescope Project.
“We the Geeks” at 2-3 p.m. EDT / 1800-1900 UTC. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, former astronaut Ed Lu, and Bill Nye the Science Guy will discuss all things asteroid in a White House “We the Geeks” Google+ Hangout. The hangout can be viewed at the White House website, here: https://plus.google.com/+whitehouse/posts
Bareket Observatory beginning at 3 p.m. EDT / 1900 UTC. Bareket Observatory in Israel will transfer live images of asteroid 1998 QE2. See Bareket’s latest image here.
NASA at Space.com at 4:30 EDT / 20:30 UTC. Space.com is hosting NASA ustream live on its site beginning 1:30 EDT. Go here to watch on Space.com.
Slooh at 1:30 p.m. PDT / 4:30 p.m. EDT / 2030 UTC. Slooh Space Camera will cover 1998 QE2′s closest approach from its observatories in the Canary Islands, off the coast of west Africa. Viewers can watch live on their PC/Mac or by downloading a free Slooh iPad app in the iTunes store and touching the broadcast icon. Click here for Slooh’s schedule and more details.
The Virtual Telescope Project in Italy captured this view of giant asteroid 1998 QE2 on May 30, 2013. Photo via Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project.
Asteroid 1998 QE2 will sail past Earth on May 31, 2013, getting no closer than about 3.6 million miles (5.8 million kilometers), or about 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
As NASA peered at the asteroid via radar this week, it discovered that 1998 QE2 does not travel alone in space. Instead, this object has a moon. An asteroid with a moon is said to be a binary asteroid. Read more about 1998 QE2′s moon here.
In addition, earlier this year, NASA announced that is is developing a first-ever mission to identify, capture and relocate an asteroid for human exploration. This mission would mark an unprecedented technological achievement that raises the bar of what humans can do in space.
By the way, 1998 QE2 – which is believed to be about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) or nine Queen Elizabeth 2 ship-lengths in size – is not named for that 12-decked, transatlantic-crossing flagship for the Cunard Line, NASA says. Instead, the name is assigned by the NASA-supported Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., which gives each newly discovered asteroid a provisional designation starting with the year of first detection, along with an alphanumeric code indicating the half-month it was discovered, and the sequence within that half-month.
Bottom line: Scheduled of online events centered on the passage of asteroid 1998 QE2. The asteroid is closest May 31, 2013 at 1:59 p.m. Pacific (4:59 p.m. Eastern / 20:59 UTC).
And finally, if you haven’t heard about this beautiful “trio” of planets, visible in the western sky at dusk, you may have an opportunity to catch the remaining movements of this tightly enclosed cluster before they disperse completely!
Planetary trio has ended. Where do the planets go next?
|Jupiter, Venus and Mercury are no longer within a 5-degree circle. But you can still see all three in the west after sunset for a few more days.|
The planetary trio is now over, but you might still glimpse Jupiter as it drops into the sun’s glare. Meanwhile, Venus and Mercury are going to appear in the evening twilight sky throughout June.
The planetary trio – Jupiter, Venus, Mercury – has been an awesome sight in the west after sunset. A planetary trio is when three planets fit within a circle with a 5-degree, or smaller, diameter. Jupiter, Venus and Mercury met that definition of a planetary trio from May 24-29, 2013. They were even closer – about 3 degrees apart – on May 25, 26 and 27. May 26 was the closest grouping of these three planets until the year 2021. But the show is still going, and all three planets are still in the west after sunset through the first few days of June, when Jupiter will disappear in bright evening twilight, near the setting sun. Some called this late May 2013 event a triple conjunction, but a more fitting and descriptive name is planetary trio.
Jupiter, Venus and Mercury on May 29, 2013 … your last chance to see them within a 5-degree circle in Earth’s sky.
Jupiter (l), Venus (bottom) and Mercury on May 26, 2013 – closer than we’ll see three planets again until 2021 – as captured from Deming, New Mexico by EarthSky Facebook friend Dan Gauss.
May 26 was the closest grouping of three planets until the year 2021.
When and how do I look for the three planets? Start looking just after the sun goes down, about 30 minutes after sunset. Jupiter is extremely low in the western twilight now. Mercury and Venus are higher up and easier to see. Still, trees or tall buildings may block them from view.
Jupiter, Venus Mercury daily viewing guide
On May 24, Mercury passed Venus less than 2 degrees from Venus in right ascension. Around this time, the three planets began to look like a triangle in the twilight. Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury fit within a 5-degree circle from May 24-29.
On May 26, the triangle of Venus, Jupiter and Mercury were most compact, closer than you’ll see them again until 2021. Your thumb at arm’s length could cover them.
By May 27, the triangle was beginning to disperse, but …
On May 28, Venus passed Jupiter in right ascension, at a distance of 1 degree. The two brightest worlds 1 degree apart! It was an awesome sight.
Do I need any special equipment to see them? You can still see Venus ad Mercury. You might need binoculars to find Jupiter very low in the western twilight sky.
How about cameras and telescopes? Sure! If you have them, know how to use them and enjoy using them … give it a try. And if you get a good photo, please post it for all to see on EarthSky’s Facebook page, or at the EarthSky photo community on G+.
How often do three planets appear together like this? Seeing three planets so close together is fairly rare. It happened last in May 2011, and it won’t happen again until October 2015. This grouping was especially good because Venus and Jupiter are the brightest planets, and Mercury appears brighter, too, than most stars. The planetary trio was visible even in places with heavy urban light pollution.
Triple conjunction? Planetary trio? Which? Strictly speaking, this was not a triple conjunction. A triple conjunction is an astronomical event that unfolds over several months. Traditionally, this term is used when two planets, or a planet and a star, appear due north-south of each other in the sky three times in a short space of time. That’s happening now, by the way, with Mercury and Venus. They are in conjunction (north-south on sky’s dome) on March 6, May 25 and June 20 this year. It’ll happen next in October-November 2013, when Mercury and Saturn will stage a true triple conjunction, appearing due north-south in the sky on October 10, October 28 and again on November 26.
In 2015, there will be another true triple conjunction, this time between the planets Venus and Jupiter (July 1, July 31, October 26).
But a triple conjunction was not what was happening in late May. Instead, there were three separate planetary conjunctions in late May, over a few days:
Mercury and Venus on May 25, 2013 (4 UTC)
Mercury and Jupiter on May 27, 2013 (10 UTC)
Venus and Jupiter on May 28, 2013 (21 UTC)
See the difference?
Approximate relative sizes of Mercury, Venus and Jupiter. They look similar in our sky only because their distances from us are so different. During the last week of May, Mercury is about 9 light-minutes from Earth, Venus is 14 light-minutes away, and Jupiter is 51 light-minutes away. One light-minute is about 11 million miles (18 million km). Image via NASA
If all three planets had the same right ascension at once … wow! That’d definitely be a very cool triple conjunction. But I can’t recall that happening in my four decades of watching the sky. No idea how often it occurs, if ever.
Meanwhile, Jean Meeus of Belgium, recognized as a world authority in spherical and mathematical astronomy, has defined the term planetary trio as when three planets fit within a circle with a minimum diameter smaller than 5 degrees. All three planets met Meeus’ definition of a planetary trio from May 24-29, 2013. And they were even closer – all be about 3 degrees apart – as evening dusk fell on May 25, 26 and 27.
Bottom line: Jupiter, Venus and Mercury are no longer within a circle whose diameter is less than 5 degrees wide on the sky’s dome. That 5-degree circle of planets describes a planetary trio, and these were a most compact grouping on May 26, closer than we’ll see them again until 2021. After this, Jupiter will drop into the sun’s glare, vanishing in bright twilight in early June. Meanwhile, both Venus and Mercury will remain in the evening twilight sky throughout June.
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