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Mars is a reddish star just above Venus.
Amateur Astronomer Jay McNeil made a lucky discovery last month when he noticed a new smudge of dust in the constellation of Orion using his 3-inch telescope - it turned out McNeil had discovered a nebula surrounding a newborn star that was illuminated when the star flared up. After his discovery, observatories around the world turned their larger instruments on "McNeil's Nebula" to get a better understanding of what's happening in this stellar nursery. This latest image was taken by the 8-metre Gemini observatory in Hawaii.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft took this latest picture of Saturn this week when it was 59.9 million kilometres away. The photo was taken using Cassini's BL1 broadband spectral filter. A full colour composite picture is built up by adding together images taken in the blue, red and green spectrums. Three of Saturn's moons can be seen in the image: Enceladus, Mimas, and Rhea. Cassini will be releasing new images once a week until it reaches Saturn in July 2004.
When they look at Io, one of Jupiter's moons, researchers think they could be seeing that the Earth might have looked like in its early history, before the development of plate tectonics - 200 to 500 million years after the planet formed. Volcanically active Io is being constantly pulled by Jupiter and another of its moons, Europa, so plate tectonics have never taken hold. On Earth, volcanic hotspots form at the edges of plates, but on Io they are circular.
Beginning tonight, and lasting for about two weeks, all five planets visible to the unaided eye will be in the sky - a nighttime planetary grouping that won't be back again until 2036. To get the best view, head somewhere with a clear view to the Western horizon (you should still be able to see all the planets, even from a light-polluted urban environment). Mercury is just above the horizon (near the Moon tonight), Venus is the bright star high in the Western sky, Mars is a reddish star just above Venus, Saturn is almost directly overhead, and Jupiter is the brightest object in the Eastern sky.
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