Many skywatching treats require either some knowledge of the night sky or some careful work to track them down. But a few are so dazzling that they take no effort at all — just look skyward and there they are.
Among the most prominent of these is a conjunction between the Moon and the planet Venus, the two brightest objects in the night sky. And there’s a fine one on display at dawn tomorrow. Venus, the “morning star,” perches just to the lower left of the crescent Moon. As long as you have a clear eastern horizon you just can’t miss them.
The Moon shines so brightly because it’s our closest celestial neighbor — an average of just under a quarter of a million miles away. That’s a pretty good distance, but it’s well within the bounds of human experience. Some cars log that many miles, for example, and a busy executive who makes weekly round trips from New York to Los Angeles would rack up that many miles in a year.
Venus’s proximity is one of the reasons that it shines so brightly as well. It’s our second-closest neighbor — just 27 million miles at its closest. Although that’s not much by astronomical standards, it stretches the bounds of human experience. If you live to be a century old, for example, you’d have to travel more than a quarter-million miles every year to tally enough distance to reach Venus — a one-way ticket to the Moon for every one of your 100 years.
Tomorrow: worlds that are a really long way away.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.