Planet-Watching, or: Where Have All the Stars Gone?

We’ve entered into a fascinating six-month phase where you’ll be able to see five planets at various times during the night (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). Planets shine far brighter than stars, so they are more easily seen. Thank goodness. As many of us hardly see any stars.

Richard Louv, the author of “Last Child in the Woods”, who coined the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder” recently wrote a blog post on “Sky Blindness & Starlight”. “Two-thirds of the U.S. population and more than one-half of the European population may have already lost the ability to see the Milky Way with the naked eye,” he writes.

I would be one of those two-thirds. Are you? Venus & Jupiter are easily visible in the early-evening sky here in central Maryland. As the night progresses though, I can only count maybe a dozen or so stars. Yet, away from cities, shopping centers, and highways, the sky is glittered with millions of twinkling stars.

One way to see more stars in the sky, along with those five bright planets, is to spend an evening at a local park, where there isn’t as much lighting from man-made structures. Oregon Ridge Nature Center frequently holds night hikes, often by the light of the full moon. Check our Winter/Spring 2012 schedule for night events.

update: Venus, Jupiter, and March are clearly visible in the early evening sky now. Look up as dusk falls. March 15 is the best night for the appearance of the convergence of Venus and Jupiter in the sky – they will appear very close to each other. Though cloud cover obscured the view on the 15th, for some time you’ll still see the two planets close to each other. Mars is now quite visible on the opposite side of the sky (the east) of those bright beauties. Learn more about this “conjunction” event here at EarthSky

You can find more info about how to do some planet-watching over the next six months, here at National Geographic

You can read Richard Louv’s article on “Sky Blindness” & how the impact that light at night has on us here on the Children & Nature Network website

The Moon, Venus, and Jupiter – Harford County, MD

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