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Bright and Close

July 9, 2016

The Moon snuggles close to a bright light tonight, and even closer to a fainter light. In fact, from some parts of the country, the Moon will briefly extinguish the fainter one.

As night falls, look to the lower right of the Moon for Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. It outshines everything else at that hour except the Moon itself, so you won’t have any trouble spotting it.

The other light is Beta Virginis, the fifth-brightest star in the constellation Virgo. As seen from most of the United States, it’s quite close above or to the upper left of the Moon at nightfall. The star is pretty faint, though, so you need dark skies to see it, and binoculars will enhance the view.

As seen from a narrow strip of the southwest — from Texas to California — the Moon will pass directly between Earth and the star, blocking it from view. The exact time Beta Virginis disappears depends on your location, but it’s roughly 11 or 11:30 as seen from Texas, and around 8:30 or 9 as seen from California.

Beta Virginis is roughly similar to the Sun. It’s about 25 percent more massive, so it’s a little bigger than the Sun, and a few times brighter. It’s also a little younger. Still, as stars go, it’s a pretty good match. And it’s only about 35 light-years away, making it a close neighbor — one that’ll briefly hide behind the Moon.

Again, look for Beta Virginis quite near the Moon this evening, with brilliant Jupiter to the lower right.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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