Skywatch: A change in the seasons is on the way

Skywatch: A change in the seasons is on the way
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The Red Planet will reach a milestone this week. On Sunday morning around 9 a.m. Mars will be right around 128.4 million miles from the sun. This may not sound like a big deal but this is the planet’s perihelion or point when it’s closest to the sun in its orbit. Mars will be in the southeastern sky on Sunday night. Saturn and moon won’t be far off and the trio will be easy to spot shortly after sunset.

That moon you’re looking at Sunday night will be a First Quarter Moon. It officially reaches that point at 7:15 p.m. Sunday so you’ll see a half-moon with the two planets.

If you’re paying attention you may notice the sunsets this week (and next) aren’t taking as long as they did a few months ago. That’s because the autumnal equinox is this week (more on that in a few). As a result, the sun is hitting the horizon at the “steepest possible angle” which leads to the faster sunsets. They’ll take approximately 2 minutes and 45 seconds as opposed to the roughly 3 minutes and 15-second sunsets during the solstices.

On Friday Venus is extra bright in the southwest in the early evening. The planet reaches its “greatest illuminated extent” earlier in the day. That means more of the planet’s daytime, or illuminated, side is visible. As a result, the “evening star” will shine brightly near the horizon. Just up and left of it you’ll find Jupiter.

I mentioned the autumnal or fall equinox earlier. It happens on Saturday at 9:54 p.m. when the sun is directly overhead at the equator. That means summer is over and fall begins. You’ve probably noticed the days getting shorter and the nights getting longer in recent weeks and they’ll continue to do so until after the winter solstice on December 21st. Happy hunting!