Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tu B'Shvat 2010: Harmony on earth, and Mars above

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Tu B'Shvat, the festival of trees here in Israel, is a holiday that evokes the intrinsic harmony of nature, the existential beauty of God's creations here on earth and the myriad benefits we humans derive therefrom.  With such amity on the calendar, we may read with shock about what is happening at the same time in the heavenly sphere: MARS IN OPPOSITION!

 Mars by  Bill Flanagan.
Mars on Jan. 22, 2010Mars's name in English is for the Roman god of war, but its name in Hebrew, Maadim, denotes its pretty red (adom) hue rather than any military associations.  And "opposition" with reference to celestial bodies simply means that the planet is at its closest and brightest for this particular orbit.  So harmony reigns in the skies as well as on earth on Tu B'Shvat, and we can all relax.

Mars, reports the Astronomer, can be easily seen in the early evening as it rises in the east (OPPOSITE the setting sun)(sorry, Tom, but some of us are confused by these things) and is up all night.  Those sky gazers who can find Orion (look for the three bright stars of his belt) and his loyal dog, Sirius (the brightest star in the sky) will see Mars to the left of Sirius--about the same brightness ("apparent magnitude") but with its characteristic reddish-orange color.

Sky gazers for whom Orion remains elusive will have extra help locating Mars this weekend because the Moon will be shining in the same part of the sky both Friday and Saturday night.  On Friday, the Moon will be slightly above and to the right of Mars; on Saturday night, the Moon will be slightly below and to the right of Mars.

Sky and Telescope has a lovely, not-too-complicated guide for helping to locate these things.  The Moon in the picture is correct for the US.  In Israel the Moon will be a bit lower each night as described above.

Happy viewing!
The Astronomer says: Keep looking up!


  1. Cool. However The photo is rotated, probably due to the photographing not through a prism. the ice pole is at Mars north (Up!).

  2. Ps2: One really must pay attention to the retrograde motion of Mars and the fact that it will be much closer to Pullex in few weeks before going back east.

  3. Good point Gadi. I'll be looking for that backward wandering. -tom

  4. Sue - I love your blog. It is very well written and provides a lovely perspective on astonomy.

    For those who were wondering about Gadi's comment above, when he wrote "Pullex", he presumably meant Pollux, one of the two bright stars in Gemini. ("Pullex" is a Swedish brand of bar puller used in automated machining. :-))