Highland Road Park Observatory
Have a favorite planet? HRPO sets aside one Saturday annually for each planet in our Solar System so you and your family, friends and coworkers can get an “up close” view of the terrestrial or gas giant that’s #1 on your list. Or… try to see all of them! As usual, there’s never any out-of-pocket expense for looking through HRPO’s two large reflectors.
For 2016 our sibling planets are fairly evenly distributed throughout the calendar year. The two closest terrestrials have two ninety-minute dates as they are harder to grab in a telescope (they go down with the Sun☉). Mars♂ will have, of course, it’s every-other-year four-hour Closest Approach celebration (almost never on a Saturday). The gas giants receive two hours each.
Saturday 16 April, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm CDT
Saturday 23 April, 5:45 pm to 7:15 pm CDT
The wonderful MESSENGER spacecraft spent over a year leisurely orbiting the closest planet to the Sun☉, gathering a wealth of images and data. We envy that craft, as Mercury☿ is the most difficult planet to see—but we’ll try our best! The swiftest planet will be in Aries♈.
Saturday 7 May, 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm CDT
The king of the planets (on this date in the constellation Leo♌) is always a delight, with the visible cloud bands and its four Galilean moons—Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto—easily seen as well. The Galileans are always in a different configuration from night to night. How many of them will be seen this night? The Juno spacecraft is making its way to Jupiter♃, and will arrive in this summer!
Monday 30 May, 8:00 pm to 12:00 am CDT
This is the one night many Marsophiles crave and anticipate. The Closest Approach only happens every other year. Will you be outside to see it? Will you join us for this celebration of all things Mars♂? On this night Mars♂ shines brilliantly at -1.9 magnitude in the constellation Libra♎. Both the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Curiosity Rover are exploring the Red Planet now, and MAVEN just got there!
Saturday 23 July, 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm CDT
The spacecraft Cassini has been doing seemingly endless loops and swoops around Saturn♄ and its moons, showing us things we’d never seen before. Well, from our vantage point on Earth♁, the angle of this planet’s majestic rings is widening by the month! This night Saturn♄ is in the constellation Ophuichus. This visit with Saturn♄ is bittersweet as Cassini is actually wrapping up its last year or so of Saturnian explorations.
Saturday 22 October, 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm CDT
It’s the windiest planet—far away, but its distinctive blue tint is apparent. The Voyager 2 spacecraft provided an incredible amount of information. Visitors will be viewing the farthest “official” planet while it resides in the constellation Aquarius♒.
Saturday 3 December, 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm CST
It’s the tiltiest planet, far away, but its distinctive blue-green tint showcased in Voyager 2 images is apparent. Visitors will be viewing Uranus♅ as it resides in the constellation Pisces♓. Neither Uranus♅ nor Neptune♆ has any spacecraft currently investigating them…for now.
Saturday 10 December, 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm CST
Saturday 17 December, 4:45 pm to 6:15 pm CST
The Magellan spacecraft made the first global map of Venus’♀ surface. Earth♁ and Venus♀ are similar in size, mass and distance from the Sun☉. But—Venus♀ has no oceans and temperatures hot enough to melt lead! During these dates Venus♀ will be in Capricornus♑.
Updated by Frederick J. Barnett on Monday, April 18, 2016, 11:07 AM.