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Planetary Trio Provides a Warm-up Act for Perseids
What's Up: Brought to you by Jane Houston Jones

Are you eager to see the annual Perseids meteor shower on Thursday? You'll have to wait until after 10 p.m. local time to see them, so why not pass some time until the Perseid showtime by viewing the planets right from your doorstep? Step outside for the planetary warm-up act.

All you have to do is look towards the west just as soon as the sun sets. Bright Venus is the first to appear. It's really bright, and you can't miss it.

Next, hold your clenched fist up to the sky covering Venus. To the right of Venus, about half of a clenched fist away, is a second planet. That's Saturn!

And to the upper left of Venus is another planet.... That's Mars!

But wait, there's more. Look below Venus for the slender crescent moon. If you don't see the moon, look again Friday night - it will be a larger crescent to the left of Venus.

Though the three planets appear together in our line-of-sight they are really far apart from each other. Mars is about 300 million kilometers (186 million miles) from Earth, while Venus is 112 million kilometers (70 million miles) away. Saturn? It's 1,535 million kilometers (954 million miles) from Earth. The moon? It's 363 thousand kilometers, or only 226 thousand miles away.

It's fun to compare the size of the moon and Mars, especially if you received that annual email (incorrectly) stating that Mars will be as big as the moon this month.

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About: Jane Houston Jones
Photo of Jane Houston Jones
Jane is an astronomer, NASA science podcast developer, writer, educational and outreach artisan and social media enthusiast. She and her husband have an asteroid (22338 Janemojo) named after them.
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Last Updated: 20 Jan 2011