Planets' Remarkable Dance Above Portland, Oregon Coast Range; Star Parties
Published 06/12/2015 at 5:22 PM PDT
(Portland, Oregon) – The skies above Oregon, Portland and even the coast will soon be filled with a fascinating conjunction of two planets, while closer to ground there will be some celebrations by local astronomers in the form of Star Parties.
OMSI astronomer Jim Todd said a lot is happening in the night skies soon.
On June 30 and July 1, sky watchers will witness a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, the closest they will be to each other until August 27, 2016. These visible planets will be hard to miss as Venus, with a magnitude of -4, and Jupiter with a magnitude of -2 will rank as the third and fourth brightest celestial bodies, after the Sun and full Moon.
“After recent sunsets, you may have noticed two bright celestial objects high above the western horizon,” Todd said. “Each night, they move closer to each other. These are the queen and king of planets: Venus and Jupiter. From now through June 30th, watch as Venus and Jupiter head eastward toward Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion. Because Jupiter is the fifth planet and Venus the second planet from the sun, Venus will zoom toward Regulus day by day, whereas Jupiter will travel at a slower pace. In addition, don’t miss out on this close celestial grouping on June 18, 19 and 20, featuring the waxing crescent Moon, Venus and Jupiter.”
Todd said Venus is so bright because it has thick clouds of carbon dioxide reflect nearly 70% of the sunlight that reaches it back into space. It is also the closest planet to Earth. Venus can often be seen within a few hours after sunset or before sunrise as the brightest object in the sky (other than the full Moon).
Jupiter is now not as bright or as prominent as it has been, but it is still a bright stand-out in the southwestern skies. Todd said it will slowly decrease in brightness from magnitude -2.1 to -1.9. Jupiter spends the month in Cancer in its eastwards progress towards Leo.
Todd said that with a small telescope you should easily be able to see the equatorial bands in the atmosphere, sometimes the Great Red Spot and up to four of the Galilean moons as they weave their way around the planet.
Now, for the parties.
Rooster Rock State Park in the Gorge and L.L. Stub Stewart State Park in the Oregon coast range will be the sites of a Star Party on June 20, starting at 9 p.m. This is to celebrated the beginning of summer, and the parties are free.
From beginners to experts of all ages, it's an opportunity to view the stars and other celestial objects up close and personal through telescope and binoculars. Viewing highlights include a beautiful gathering of the Moon with Jupiter and Venus in the west, and the famous Saturn. If you’ve never had a chance to get away from city lights and see the sky from a darker view, these star parties are your best bet. Even just 20 to 30 miles from the big city, many more stars and deep sky objects come into view.
If you’ve ever thought about getting a telescope but didn’t know which one would be best for your use, OMSI Star Parties are the place to do your research. You’re welcome to view through them, just ask. It’s a great opportunity to test out all kinds of telescopes and find a style you like.
On the scheduled day of each OMSI Star Parties, it is suggested that interested visitors call the OMSI Star Parties Hotline, 503 797-4610 #2, or check the OMSI Star Parties web site for possible weather-related cancellations. The event starts at sunset and is free with $5 parking per vehicle. Warm clothing and a flashlight with red light are recommended. Personal telescopes and binoculars are welcome.
To reach Rooster Rock State Park, take I-84 east of the Sandy River at exit 25. The park is located 22 miles east of Portland.
To reach L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park, take US-26 west of Portland and turn right on OR-47. The park is located 23 miles west of Portland.
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