Saturday, September 7, 2013
Crescent Moon and Venus Get Close Sunday Night Sept. 8
A minor, but cute, pairing is visible in the sky tomorrow. It happens soon after sunset and you can only see it if you have an unobstructed view of the west-southwest horizon. (For many of us that means we will have to get high -- only in the geographical sense, mind you!! Typically, our view is blocked by buildings, trees, hills, etc. and we can't see the western horizon.) But if you get to a place where you can see low in the west Sunday evening, you will see a very thin crescent Moon and the bright planet Venus just to the right of it.
You can start looking about a half hour after the Sun sets on Sunday and you'll see it best about 45 minutes after sunset. But don't wait too long to catch it; soon both objects will set in the West, and disappear from your view.
When Venus is visible just after sunset, people call it the evening star. But it's not a star at all, but a planet -- our neighbor planet just sunward of the Earth. It reflects quite a bit of sunlight both because it's close to the Sun and because it's covered with clouds that are quite reflective. (In fact Venus is so cloudy, there hasn't been a clear day there in 3 billion years. I like to cheer up my friends in Seattle by telling them that.)
As you can see in the nice diagram, which I borrowed from the good people at Sky & Telescope magazine, if you look further up and to the left, you will also see the planet Saturn in the same part of the sky. The distance in the sky between the Moon and Saturn should be about the width of your clenched fist, if you hold out your hand at arm's length. If you have binoculars or a telescope, you can enhance your view, but if you don't have an instrument, it's still fun to look. If you have kids, bring them outside and show them the sight too. It couldn't hurt to impress them with your knowledge of the universe while they are young.
For more information, you can see the full story at the Sky & Telescope web site: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/highlights/Crescent-Moon-and-Venus-Put-on-a-Show-222505621.html