Moon, Jupiter, and Venus
Like rungs on a celestial ladder, the three brightest objects in the night sky step up the western sky as darkness falls this evening.
The brightest member of the trio is the Moon. It passed between Earth and the Sun just a couple of days ago, so it’s moving out of the Sun’s glare. Most of the hemisphere that faces Earth is still in darkness, though -- only about five percent is illuminated by sunlight.
Regular Moon watchers know that the rest of the lunar disk is getting light, though -- reflected off the face of Earth. So as the sky begins to darken, you can easily make out the entire lunar disk, bathed in the ghostly glow of earthshine.
To the upper left of the Moon is Jupiter, the third-brightest object in the night sky. It looks like a brilliant star, with a bit of a cream color. It’s more than half a billion miles away, but it shines brightly in our sky because it’s the largest planet in the solar system -- a behemoth that’s about 11 times as wide as Earth.
The planet Venus is a little smaller than Earth, but it’s quite close by, so it’s the second-brightest object in the night sky. Tonight, it’s directly above Jupiter as night falls, shining as the dazzling “evening star.”
So look for the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus stairstepping up the western sky early this evening. And if you miss them, try again tomorrow evening, when the Moon will pass quite close to Jupiter. We’ll have more about that tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.