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Yes, Sophie, there is a star show this week

The Herald received a letter Thursday from a Rock Hill second-grader who said she'd read that several planets would be visible this week.

"Can you tell me where to look?" asked Sophie, whose hand-written letter was penned on "Hello Kitty" notebook paper. "Do I need a telescope? Will you please print the answers in the paper soon? My brother, Wilson, and I are studying the solar system."

Well, Sophie, to answer your questions, we called Jack Horkheimer at the Miami Museum of Science & Planetarium. Horkheimer hosts the weekly PBS television show, "Star Gazer," which focuses on astronomy.

Here's the star gazer's advice for watching the sky this weekend:

Go outside about 90 minutes before sunrise. The planets Venus, Saturn and Mars will be visible without a telescope, but having one would definitely give you a better view.

Saturn is particularly beautiful when seen through a telescope, Horkheimer said.

Reddish gold Mars will be very high in the south. Venus is the brightest cosmic object apart from the moon that you can see. Look for it in the east. To Venus' left will be Saturn. The two planets will appear very close to each other.

Just above Venus and Saturn will be the star Regulus. The star, which is 4 1/2 times wider than our sun, will make a celestial triangle with Venus and Saturn. Regulus also serves as the heart of the constellation Leo the Lion.

To watch another planet, go out about an hour after sunset and look to the southwest. There, you can see Jupiter. Even with just a pair of binoculars, you can see little points of light around the planet. Those are some of its largest moons. Even the cheapest telescope will help you to see the large planet's storm patterns.

For information about what to look for in the heavens, visit Horkheimer's Web site at www.jackstargazer.com.

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