A beautiful astronomical grouping stairsteps up the western sky early this evening. One member of the group is low in the sky and sets early, but the others will be much easier to pick out.
Right in the middle of the group is the Moon. It's just two and a half days past new, so it's still a thin crescent -- it's nighttime across most of the lunar hemisphere that faces our way. As nighttime here on Earth draws close, though, you'll be able to see the entire lunar disk, because it's bathed in earthshine -- sunlight reflected from our own planet. And the earthshine is brilliant right now, because as seen from the Moon, Earth is almost full.
The planet Venus stands directly below the Moon. It's the "evening star" -- the brightest object in the night sky after the Moon. Over the coming weeks, Venus will climb higher in the sky and grow even brighter.
And the planet Mercury is to the lower right of Venus. It looks like a fairly bright star. It's low in the twilight, though, so it can be tough to find. And it'll soon drop from sight completely.
Two features of Taurus, the bull, are above the Moon. The Pleiades star cluster -- the bull's shoulder -- is directly above the Moon. It forms a tiny dipper. And the bull's eye is well to the upper left of the Pleiades -- the star Aldebaran.
Mercury sets early, but the other members of the lineup are in view for two to three hours after sunset, so there's plenty of time to enjoy the show.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010
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