Moon and Company

StarDate: June 19, 2009

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Planet watchers, take note. Three planets are in view in the east at first light tomorrow, clustered near the crescent Moon. Two of the planets are easy to find, but the third takes a little work.

The easy ones are Venus and Mars. At first light, they're to the right of the Moon and a little higher in the sky. Venus is the "morning star," so it shines fiercely through the brightening twilight. Mars is next to Venus. It's only about one percent as bright, but its orange color helps it stand out.

The third planet is Mercury. It's well below the Moon. It's so low, in fact, that it's easily covered up by buildings or trees on the horizon. It's quite bright, though, so if you do have a clear horizon, it'll stand out.

Mercury will actually get a little brighter over the next few days. Unfortunately, though, it's dropping back toward the Sun, so there's less time to look for it. It'll soon be completely immersed in the solar glare and lost from sight.

Venus is dropping toward the Sun, too, but at a much more leisurely pace. It'll remain in view until around Thanksgiving.

Mars is heading in the other direction -- it's climbing away from the Sun. So it'll rise earlier and grow brighter throughout the summer and fall. Mars will put on its best showing late this year and into January.

Again, look for this trio of planets -- Mars, Venus, and Mercury -- clustering near the crescent Moon in the early glow of twilight.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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