Moon and Planets

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Moon and Planets
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A couple of planets lead the Moon down the sky after sunset. Both planets are bright. But they’re quite low in the sky, so they’ll be hard to see. You need a clear horizon — no trees or buildings to block the view. And binoculars can help you pick them out.

Start looking soon after sunset. First find the Moon, which is the barest of crescents. The Sun lights up only a sliver of the side of the Moon that faces our way. As the sky darkens, though, you should easily make out the rest of the lunar disk. That’s because it’s illuminated by earthshine — sunlight reflected from a nearly full Earth.

Scan to the lower right of the Moon for Mercury. It’s the closest planet to the Sun, so it never moves far from the Sun in our sky. It’s putting in a pretty good evening appearance, though. It’ll climb higher above the horizon for several nights before it heads back toward the Sun. So if you don’t spot Mercury this evening, you’ve still got some time.

That’s not the case for Jupiter, which stands to the lower right of Mercury. It’s the largest planet in the solar system, and it shines brightly. But you won’t see it unless you have a clear horizon. And it won’t be around much longer — it’ll vanish any day now.

The view of this challenging lineup will be a little better from more southerly locations, where the Moon and planets align at a better angle. Even so, the planets will be tough to spot through the evening twilight.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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