Published on Thu, Apr 8, 2004
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Look up

by Jack Kintner

There are six of the nine known planets in the solar system that can be seen with the naked eye, and all can be seen on the same night right now. Look for the beacon-bright Venus in the western sky after sunset, and little Mercury will be below it and slightly to the right. Mercury is the Roman god of commerce, travel and, perhaps, e-mail. That’s one.

Mars is a little above Venus and to the left, on a line with the constellation Orion. Once the god of agriculture, Mars and his Greek equivalent Ares are god of war. It came closer to earth this year than is has in millennia, which is why NASA chose this time to send the planetary rover there. That’s two.

Venus itself is the first star-like object very near the Pleiades, the well-known Subaru emblem, and is named for the goddess of beauty. That’s three.

Jupiter is in the eastern sky not far from the moon, and several of its moons (64 have been found so far) can be seen with most binoculars, though you may have to steady them on a broomstick, fencepost or baseball bat. With a telescope, one can distinguish broad bands of color and the large “red spot” that’s basically a storm twice the size of earth which has been raging since time immemorial. Jupiter was the chief god, appropriate since the planet has more mass than all the other planets combined times two. That’s four.

Saturn is in the west above the constellation Orion, and aside from its well-known rings it also has more than thirty moons. Saturn is named for the god of agriculture. That’s five.
And six? You’re standing on it.