The crescent Moon and the planet Venus stage a beautiful display the next few evenings. Tonight, the Moon is quite low in the sky at sunset, with brilliant Venus well above it. The Moon sets by the time the sky gets fully dark, so you need to look quickly to see it.
Venus is getting ready to disappear from view soon, too. It’s dropping noticeably lower in the sky day by day, and by month’s end, it’ll be so near the Sun that it’ll be almost impossible to see.
The planet is nearing a point in its orbit known as inferior conjunction, when it crosses between Earth and the Sun. It’ll be closest to Earth then, at a distance of about 26 million miles. After that, it’ll quickly climb into view in the morning sky.
Venus’s orbit is aligned in such a way that it usually passes a little above or below the Sun as seen from Earth. This time, however, it will pass directly across the face of the Sun, forming a tiny, dark silhouette — an event known as a transit. That will take place on the afternoon of June 5th for those of us in the United States, and at least part of it will be visible across the entire country. We’ll have much more about the transit as the date gets closer.
In the meantime, enjoy the view of the brilliant “evening star” as it heads toward its encounter with the Sun. Venus is high above the Moon this evening, close to its upper right tomorrow evening, and far to its lower right on Wednesday.
Tomorrow: the strongman.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.