Over the next few weeks, if you go outside in Chicago shortly after sunset, it will be possible to see three (and maybe four) planets up in the night sky. Even with our city's light pollution, Venus and Jupiter should be visible on the eastern horizon between approximately 6 and 10 p.m. Venus is closer to the horizon and also much brighter than Jupiter. Between March 13th and 15th they will appear to converge.
Simultaneously, Mars can be seen as a slightly dimmer red/orange dot in the eastern sky. Go outside right after sunset and look east; it should be fairly easy to spot. Shortly after 11 p.m., Saturn might be visible following after Mars, but it will be much dimmer.
To put these alignments in the night sky in perspective, here is a screen grab from Astro Viewer to show where these objects are in our solar system, relative to us:
As Venus orbits counter clockwise, it will appear to get closer to Jupiter. Also, note that Mars is very close to us right now: the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (currently en route) was actually timed around this event to allow it to travel the shortest distance.
I would encourage everyone to go outside in the next few weeks and look up. These small seemingly insignificant dots are other worlds. To help in this endeavor, try this relatively easy-to-use virtual night sky!
[Images] Jupiter/Venus: Fernando Corrada via universetoday.com. Solar System: Astro Viewer.
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