REACH FOR THE STARS AT MAROPENG

  • February 01, 2012

Avid stargazers are in for a special treat in February, and will be able to witness firsthand two of the solar system’s visible planets, Venus and Jupiter, as they continue on their path moving closer to one another. They have also become much brighter than usual, just in time to coincide with the month love!

Maropeng’s resident astronomer, Vincent Nettmann, says that in March you can see Venus very near to Jupiter in the north-west sky. “Venus lies between the sun and the Earth, and from where we are it appears that Jupiter is sharing the same part of the sky,” he explains.

After sunset, you should be able to spot the planets with the naked eye. They have been moving closer to one another for some time and, on March 15 2012, they will move past one another. “Unfortunately,” says Nettmann, “we won’t be able to see this movement in South Africa because Venus sets at 20:30.”

According to Nettmann, summer is a more interesting time to stargaze than winter because of the position of the planets. “However”, he says, “in Gauteng the common summer highveld storms often make it difficult to see the stars.” 

Historically, events such as this have held some significance for astronomers and non-astronomers alike. Nettmann says it’s a tradition older than recorded history, ever since humans first pondered their existence in the universe.

“Humankind’s interest in stars comes from very ancient times,” he says. “Early man looked up at the sky and would have started using the stars to tell stories. This contributed to the development of language, culture and philosophy, so people’s ideas relating to the stars are important.”

Nettmann says this is a big part of Maropeng’s stargazing evenings. “Of course I want people to walk away with a better understanding of the science, but they should also walk away with a sense of wonder, as though they’ve been exploring the universe.”

FAST FACTS:

-Venus is the planet closest to the Sun and Earth.

- Venus is named of the Roman Goddess of love and beauty; however the hot atmosphere makes it impossible for any astronaut to venture onto it.

-Scientists believe that Venus used to have water on its surface but this was dried up three-million years ago after the Sun grew from its infancy stage.

-Venus’ orbit is the closest to be circular of that of any planet, with an eccentricity of less than 1%.

-Venus has no magnetic field, perhaps because of its slow rotation.

-Jupiter, known as Zeus in Greek mythology, overthrew his father Saturn to become king of the gods. He then split the universe with his brothers Neptune and Pluto.

-Did you know Jupiter has rings? They are faint and are only able to be viewed when Jupiter passes in front of the Sun. This is because the light from the Sun lights them up for us to see here on Earth. There are three rings in all. They are named Gossamer, Main and Halo.

-Jupiter has 50 official moons and 12 provisional (unofficial) moons.

-Jupiter is by far the larges planet in our Solar System. The Earth could fit inside Jupiter more than 1000 times.

COMPILED ON BEHALF OF MAROPENG BY CATHY FINDLEY PUBLIC RELATIONS. FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT NICOLLE KAIRUZ ON (011) 463 6372 OR  NICOLLE@FINDLEYPR.CO.ZA.

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