Moon, Venus, and Mars

StarDate: May 19, 2009

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Three of our closest neighbors team up to put on a beautiful show in the dawn sky the next couple of mornings -- the Moon and the planets Venus and Mars. Tomorrow, they'll stairstep up the eastern sky an hour before sunrise.

The Moon rises first, so it's highest in the sky. It was at last quarter just a couple of days ago, so it's a fat crescent right now. The Sun illuminates almost half of the hemisphere that faces our way. The rest of the lunar disk is visible, too, as a ghostly gray shadow. It is lit by earthshine -- sunlight reflected off of Earth. Over the next few days, as the Moon's crescent gets slimmer, the earth-lit portion will get brighter.

Venus is to the lower left of the Moon. You won't have any trouble finding it because it's the brilliant "morning star." It outshines everything else in the night sky except the Moon itself.

And Mars is to the lower left of Venus, by about half the distance between Venus and the Moon. It looks like a fairly bright orange star. It's quite low in the sky, though, so it's a little harder to find. You need a clear horizon to spot it. But if you use Venus as a signpost, you shouldn't have any trouble finding it.

Mars has been hiding in the glow of the Sun for months now. But during the summer, it'll begin to pull away and put on a better showing. It'll be at its best at the end of the year.

We'll have more about this morning trio tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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