Moon and Companions

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Moon and Companions
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A beautiful quartet greets early risers tomorrow: the Moon, two planets, and a star. All four of them are low in the east-southeast at the first blush of twilight.

The Moon will be a bare “fingernail” — only a small sliver will be lit up by the Sun. It’ll be nighttime across the rest of the lunar disk. Yet it won’t be anything like nighttime here on Earth. That’s because an almost-full Earth will hang in the sky. It shines dozens of times brighter than a full Moon, so it really brightens the night. And you can see that effect as “earthshine” — a ghostly glow on the dark portion of the Moon.

Mercury will stand directly below the Moon. It’s the closest planet to the Sun. As a result, our viewing angle on the little world usually isn’t very good.

It is good for the next few mornings, though. Mercury looks like a bright star, but it’s so low in the sky that you’ll need a clear horizon to spot it. And it will disappear from view quickly as the twilight begins to brighten.

Spica will stand to the right of the Moon. It’s the brightest star of the constellation Virgo. It’s easy to lose in the waxing twilight, although its proximity to the other bodies will help you pick it out.

Finally, Venus will perch above the other members of the quartet. The planet shines as the “morning star” — the brightest object in all the night sky other than the Moon. It completes a beautiful quartet in tomorrow’s dawn sky.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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