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Moon and Planets
The Moon and three bright planets huddle in the southwestern sky after sunset this week. One planet drops from sight early on, but the others are in good view until well after night falls.
This evening, start looking about 30 or 40 minutes after sunset for Venus, the brilliant “evening star.” It’s to the lower right of the Moon, quite low in the sky, so you need a clear horizon to spot it.
Once you do find it, you might need to keep an eye on it for a while to convince yourself that it really is a planet. Venus is so bright that it often looks like an approaching airplane. Unlike an airplane, though, it maintains its position. Its only motion is a slow descent toward the horizon as Earth turns on its axis. Venus drops from view not long after the sky gets good and dark.
The second planet is farther to the upper left of the Moon. Saturn lacks the luster of Venus. The planet itself is much bigger, but it’s also hundreds of millions of miles farther. A bright star poses below Saturn: Antares, the heart of Scorpius.
After darkness falls, you might notice the star’s orange color. That hue is matched by the third planet in the lineup, Mars, which is far to the upper left of Saturn. Mars is still shining brighter than Antares, though, so it’s easy to spot.
The Moon will move past Saturn over the next couple of nights, and Mars over the weekend, leaving behind its companions — until next month.
More about the Moon and Saturn tomorrow.