Highland Road Park Observatory

2017 PLANET TIMES

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 2017 our sibling planets are fairly evenly distributed throughout the calendar year. The two closest terrestrials have two two-hour dates as they are harder to grab in a telescope (they go down with the Sun☉).

Mars♂, sadly, is in an off-year (meaning it is far away and either too close to the Sun☉ or can only be seen early in the morning). However, Mars♂ will have its legendary Closest Approach night in 2018.

The gas giants each receive the customary two hours each.

VENUS♀
Saturday 4 February, 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm CST
Saturday 11 February, 4:45 pm to 6:45 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 Pisces♓.

MERCURY☿
Saturday 18 March, 3:45 pm to 5:45 pm CDT
Saturday 1 July, 4:45 pm to 6:45 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 Pisces♓ during the March attempt, and in Gemini♊ during the July attempt.

JUPITER♃
Saturday 27 May, 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm CDT

The king of the planets (on this date in the constellation Virgo♍) 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 made its way to Jupiter♃ last summer, and is sending back up-close pictures!

SATURN♄
Saturday 5 August, 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 (remaining there until November). This visit with Saturn♄ is bittersweet as Cassini is actually wrapping up its final days of Saturnian explorations.

NEPTUNE♆
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♒; it doesn’t leave that constellation until 2023!

URANUS♅
Saturday 9 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. (In February 2019 Uranus♅ enters a new home—Aries♈.)

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Updated by Frederick J. Barnett on Wednesday, January 18, 2017, 05:34 PM.