Venus and Mercury
A couple of astronomical pairings will highlight the dawn sky tomorrow. One pair is easy to see, but the other may take a little help.
The bright pair is the Moon and the star Spica. They actually rise late this evening, with Spica quite close to the Moon's left or upper left. They drift across the south during the night, and are over in the southwest at first light.
The other pair is the planets Venus and Mercury. They rise not long before the Sun, so there's not much time to see them. The best view comes about 30 or 40 minutes before sunrise. They're quite low in the east-southeast.
If you have a clear horizon, you shouldn't have much trouble with Venus -- it's the brilliant "morning star." But Mercury is tougher to pick out. It's only about a fiftieth as bright as Venus, which means it's hard to pluck from the glare of twilight. You might want binoculars to help you find it, just a bit to the upper left of Venus.
Mercury and Venus are the only planets that are closer to the Sun than Earth is. That means they're visible for only a little while before sunrise or after sunset. Venus is farther out, so it can move farther away from the Sun in our sky. That gives us more time to appreciate its beauty. But Mercury always stays quite close to the Sun, so it's hard to see. So it helps to have good guideposts to point the way -- guideposts like Venus, the bright and beautiful morning star.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2007
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.