Venus and Saturn are gracing the sunset horizon, as a pair, this week. Venus appears as an extraordinarily bright “star” (it’s the brightest of our planets) high above the WSW. Saturn can be seen, with considerably more effort, as a much fainter, golden-hued “star” to the near-right of Venus. Watch in the days ahead, and you’ll see the two pass each other, with Saturn racing closer to the horizon, and Venus sidestepping toward the south (left-ward.) Lower-latitude observers with unobstructed views may even spot a third planet, tiny Mercury, shining just above the horizon (to the lower right of Venus and Saturn,) before full darkness sets in.

Venus and Saturn, 2013Sept18

Though Venus and Saturn appear similar and close together from our Earthbound point-of-view, they are actually quite  opposite. Venus is an excruciatingly hot, Earth-sized, terrestrial planet located some 45-million miles away. Saturn, a cold gaseous orb, is 9-times the diameter and 95-times the mass of Earth and is located more than a billion miles from our planet. As we watch these two distant worlds in their individual orbits around the Sun – with Earth in between the two – it’s fun to consider their differences, as well as their relationship to us.