Moon and Planets

Moon and Planets

Bright, brighter, and brightest congregate in the southwest this evening. They set not long after the Sun, though, so there’s not much time to enjoy them.

The three objects are the brightest in the night sky: the Moon and the planets Venus and Jupiter. Venus is the brighter planet, quite close to the Moon. Jupiter is a little lower, so it’s tougher to spot.

The Moon looks bright only because it’s close — just a quarter of a million miles away.

In reality, though, the Moon is quite dark. On average, its surface reflects only about 10 percent of the sunlight that strikes it. That’s because the surface is made of volcanic rock. Some of it is in the form of smooth plains — the Moon’s dark features. The rest forms jumbled mountains and crater fields. These areas are lighter than the plains, but still quite dark.

Venus looks bright because it’s covered by clouds, which reflect about two-thirds of the sunlight that strikes them. It’s also close to the Sun, so it receives a lot of sunlight. And it’s close to Earth, so it reflects a lot of that light our way.

Jupiter is much farther than Venus, so it doesn’t look as bright. But it, too, is covered by clouds. And it’s the Sun’s largest planet, so it’s a big target.

The Moon and planets all set by about 90 minutes after sunset, so you need a clear horizon to see them. The view is better from more southerly latitudes. As a bonus, the planet Saturn is not far to the upper left of the bright trio.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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