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Moon and Companions

December 5, 2015

The Moon is surrounded by bright, close companions early tomorrow — two planets and one star. They all stretch across the southeast at first light.

The most prominent companion is Venus, the “morning star,” down to the lower left of the Moon. Although it looks like a star, and is even called one, Venus is really a planet. In fact, it’s our closest planetary neighbor — one of several reasons for its brilliance. More about Venus tomorrow.

Two fainter companions are closer to the Moon — Spica below it, and Mars above. Spica is the brightest star of the constellation Virgo. It’s actually two stars that are much bigger, brighter, and heavier than the Sun. But they’re so close together that, seen from our great distance, their light blurs into a single pinpoint.

Mars is another planetary neighbor — only Venus can pass closer to us than Mars. Right now, Mars is a pretty good distance away. But it’s moving closer by the day, and will make its closest approach to Earth in the spring, when it’ll shine much more vividly than it does now.

One other planet is in view as well. Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, is a long way to the upper right of the Moon. It never gets especially close. But it’s so big that it always looks quite bright. In fact, the only three objects in the night sky that can outshine it are the Moon, Venus, and, for brief moments, Mars — three objects that are close together in tomorrow’s early morning sky.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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