Moon and Company
A thin crescent Moon shoots the gap between three planets early this evening. Two of the planets won't hang around for long, so there's not much time to look for them. But the third will remain in view until the middle of the evening.
Start looking for the Moon about a half-hour or so after sunset. It's low in the southwest, so you'll need a clear horizon to spot it. Then scan to its lower right for two bright star-like points of light. The brighter one is Jupiter, while the other is Mercury.
As long as you have an unbroken view of the horizon, Jupiter will stand out. Even though it's not at its peak right now, it's still a good bit brighter than any of the true stars in the night sky, so it's easy to pick out. Mercury is only about a third as bright at Jupiter, but the pairing with its brighter sibling will help it stand out.
Mercury is actually moving a little higher into the evening sky right now. It'll pass Jupiter in a few days, and remain in view for a few days longer.
As Jupiter and Mercury drop from sight, the third planet shines boldly on -- Venus, the brilliant "evening star." It's well to the upper left of the Moon this evening. Venus far outshines Jupiter and Mercury, so unless trees or clouds block it out, there's just no way to miss it.
The Moon is moving toward Venus right now, and will snuggle a good bit closer to the planet the next couple of nights. More about Venus and the Moon tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.