The crescent Moon passes by the planets Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter in the dawn sky on April 30 and May 1. This view is about 30 to 40 minutes before sunrise, as the sky grows fairly bright. Venus will be the easiest to spot, but all three will require a clear horizon unobstructed by trees, buildings, or other objects. The view is best from the southern states, where the Moon and planets rise at a higher angle. [Tim Jones]
If you have to get up early tomorrow, you have our condolences. But if you step outside at just the right time, Mother Nature offers up a beautiful consolation: the Moon and the "morning star" shining through the colorful twilight.
That "star" isn't really a star at all, though -- it's Venus, our closest planetary neighbor. It's the brightest object in the night sky after the Moon, so you just can't miss it.
Actually, Venus isn't always our closest neighbor. No planet ever passes closer than Venus does -- just 27 million miles. But as Earth and Venus follow their separate orbits around the Sun, the distance between them varies by quite a bit. So at times, Mercury and even Mars can be closer than Venus is.
Venus is nearing its greatest distance from us as its orbit carries the planet to the other side of the Sun. In August, it'll line up behind the Sun, so it'll be at its farthest -- about 160 million miles.
Right now, Mercury is only about half that distance. And in fact, it huddles quite close to Venus in the sky now. It's a little bit lower, though, so it's hard to pluck from the glow of early twilight -- you probably need binoculars to find it.
You shouldn't have any trouble with Venus and the Moon, though. They're due east about 30 or 40 minutes before sunrise, low in the sky, with Venus directly below the Moon.
We'll have more about this morning lineup -- plus several other planets that are nearby -- tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.