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Double Double

February 21, 2015

You don’t have to be LeBron James or Tim Duncan to score a double double tonight. Just look in the western sky in early evening. The solar system offers up two close pairings. Each of them consists of one bright, prominent object plus a much fainter one.

One of the doubles is anchored by the crescent Moon. Sunlight illuminates about one-eighth of the lunar disk, with the rest of it in darkness. Yet you can easily make out the entire disk because it’s bathed in earthshine — sunlight reflected off of our own Earth. It gives the “dark” portion of the Moon a ghostly appearance.

The Moon’s companion is the planet Uranus. It’s only about a degree or so to the lower right of the Moon — less than the width of a finger held at arm’s length. The planet is just below the edge of visibility right now. But it should be easy to spot with binoculars. It looks like a tiny star, with perhaps a hint of blue-green.

The other double is far to the lower right of the Moon. Its anchor is the planet Venus, the brilliant “evening star.” It far outshines all the other planets and stars in the night sky, so you just can’t miss it.

Venus’s companion is the planet Mars, just a whisker to its upper right. Mars is only about one percent as bright as Venus right now, but the proximity to its bright sibling will help it stand out.

So enjoy the beautiful double double in the evening sky — the result of the precise choreography of the solar system.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

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