Astronomy

What's the closest Venus gets to the moon?

What's the closest Venus gets to the moon?


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I recently observed the beautiful sight of Venus quite close to the crescent moon, and was wondering, what the closest (angular distance as seen from earth) they come.

Are there on-line tables or calculators for finding when such nearest events occur and are visible?


Venus is, on occasion, occulted by the Moon (that is to say, the Moon passes in front of Venus as seen from our point of view). Exactly when that happens is dependent on your location on the Earth, since the location of the Moon in the skies varies by about a degree or so depending on your location on the Earth, and of course, it might be on the other side of the Earth when it happens (it only lasts about an hour or less). From North America, it happened in December 2015; it will happen again in September 2017, but only from Australia and neighboring countries.

If you google "Venus occultation" you should get something like what you want. ETA: Here's one link: http://www.lunar-occultations.com/iota/planets/planets.htm


The Moon and Venus

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Except for the Sun, the Moon and Venus are the two brightest objects in the sky. You just can’t miss them.

Astronomers measure relative brightness of objects in the sky with a term called magnitude. The Sun has the highest magnitude of any object in the sky, at -26.73 apparent magnitude. The brightness of the Moon, for comparison, has a magnitude of -12.6. These numbers are done on a logarithmic scale. So the brightness of the Sun is actually 449,000 times brighter than the full moon.

The maximum brightness of Venus is -4.7 magnitude, which is a fraction of the brightness of the Moon (and the Sun!).

So why is the Moon so much brighter than Venus? It’s closer. The distance to the Moon is about 384,000 km, while the closest distance to Venus is about 38 million km. In other words, the Moon is about 100 times closer to Earth than Venus.

Both the Moon and Venus can cast shadows when they’re in the sky. The Moon can be bright enough to almost read by. It’s easy to navigate when the full moon is in the sky. When the Moon isn’t in the sky, but Venus is very bright, you have to look carefully to detect shadows cast by Venus.

One of the most amazing things in astronomy is when Venus and the Moon are both in the sky especially when they’re very close to one another. Make sure you head outside to see the Moon and Venus with your own eyes.

We have done several articles informing readers about times when both the Moon and Venus are visible in the sky. Here’s an example, and here’s another.

And there are some great articles out there on the Internet. Here’s one from SPACE.com, and another from Astronomy Picture of the Day.

You can listen to a very interesting podcast about the formation of the Moon from Astronomy Cast, Episode 17: Where Did the Moon Come From?


Venus hovers near Spica

Planets in space on November 14, 2018 – the day that Venus and the star Spica (not shown at this scale) appear closest in our sky. Notice that Venus is near our line of sight to the sun now. That’s why we see it so low in the east before sunrise. Chart via Guy Ottewell’s blog.

On November 14, 2018, Venus comes to an apparent halt that is, it ceases to move westward in right ascension, relatively to the background constellations. The movement is curved, because Venus is in the part of its orbit that slopes northward (to cross the ecliptic on November 22), so the moment of halting in ecliptic longitude – that is, relative to the ecliptic – comes 56 hours later, on November 16.

If the timing had been slightly different, Venus appearing for us a little to the right, it would reach the same direction as Spica and might even occult the great star. What will actually happen is an appulse (a moment of nearest approach) without a conjunction of either kind, right ascension or longitude.

The 1.5 degree minimum of this Venus-Spica appulse comes at November 15 at 00:00 UTC. That is is back in November 14 by American clocks – 7:00 p.m. for the Eastern time zone, 4:00 p.m. for California. Translate UTC to your time.

The chart at the top of this post shows what is happening in planetary space.

In that space-based view, you are looking from a viewpoint outward from Earth and 15 degrees north of the ecliptic plane. Shown are the paths of the planets in November, and sight-lines from Earth at the beginning of November 14. Our sightline to Venus is 26 degrees west of our sightline to the sun. This is the elongation at which Venus reaches its stationary moment (the moment mentioned above, when it ceases moving westward relative to the background constellations). The elongation from the sun continues to increase, because the sun is moving eastward for us more rapidly than Venus yet is. Not until January 6, 2019, will Venus be at maximum morning elongation, 47 degrees from the sun, our sightline to it tangent to its orbit.

Venus and Spica have been near each other for some days, and will remain so for a few days longer. The nearest we can get to seeing Venus and Spica closest together is the morning of Wednesday, November 14. Here is what the predawn sky will look like:

Venus and Spica, November 14, 2018, as seen from about 40 degrees N. latitude on Earth. Chart via Guy Ottewell’s blog.

The arrows through the moving bodies represent, this time, their movements (relative to the starry background) over a span of 30 days, so that you can see here, too, Venus’s sweep toward Spica. The straight arrow for the sun is over the same 30 days, so you can see why it is that, though Venus begins its chase eastward, it is as yet still becoming more separated from the sun.

Venus appears 5.5 magnitudes brighter than Spica (the 15th brightest star), a factor of 160 in light. Whereas Venus is about 0.31 astronomical units or 29,000,000 miles (47,000,000 km) from us at this time (increasing that distance as it goes on around its orbit), Spica’s distance may be 260 light-years, or about 1,500,000,000,000,000 miles (2,500,000,000,000,000 km). More than 50,000,000 times farther.

How can a star be small, a cloud immense?

By the way, watch out for a new product from my website – UniversalWorkshop.com – to be called the Zodiacal Wavy Chart. This is a snippet of it:

A piece of the all-new Zodiacal Wavy Chart, via Guy Ottewell’s blog.

I’ll let you know when it becomes available, after we’ve solved the means of production.

And there will be a parallel product called Astronomical Calendars Any-Year, a bottomless barrel of information of which this is a snippet:

Together, the Wavy Chart and the Any-Year Calendar will go far to replace my former large and laborious printed books, the Astronomical Calendars, whose print form ended in 2016 but which still can be seen, in part, online.

Charts and lists have their complementary advantages. It was while working on the Wavy Chart for the present year that I noticed the wriggly movement of Venus near to Spica in November. Such motions stand out more readily in a picture than in a table of numbers. The table mentions that Venus becomes “stationary in right ascension,” and then “in longitude,” but it’s the chart that enlivens these dry statements.

Bottom line: Watch for Venus and Spica near each other before sunup in mid-November 2018.


Closest Planet to Venus

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What planet gets closest to Venus? It actually depends on where the planets are in their orbits but you might be surprised to know that Earth is the closest planet to Venus.

What, you were thinking Mercury gets closer to Venus? At their closest point, Mercury and Venus are separated by only 46 million km. Of course, that’s when the two planets are aligned on the same side of the Sun. When they’re on opposite sides of the Sun, Mercury and Venus are 178.7 million km away from each other.

When Earth and Venus are at their closest point, lined up on the same side of the Sun, they’re only separated by 39 million km. But when they’re on opposite sides of the Sun, Earth and Venus are separated by more than 250 million km. So for most of the time, Mercury and Venus are closer to one another.

But the planet that gets closest to Venus is Earth.

And that’s why Venus looks so large and bright from here on Earth. After the Sun and the Moon, Venus is the brightest object in the night sky. It can even shine so brightly that it casts shadows.

We have written many articles about Venus for Universe Today. Here’s an article about Venus’ wet, volcanic past, and here’s an article about how Venus might have had continents and oceans in the ancient past.

We have recorded a whole episode of Astronomy Cast that’s only about planet Venus. Listen to it here, Episode 50: Venus.


Crescent Moon and Venus Will Bedazzle on Sunday

By: Alan MacRobert July 10, 2018 1

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The Moon and Venus will have a lovely conjunction on Sunday, July 15th.

Watch for dramatic pairings of the Moon's slender waxing crescent with Mercury in early evening on July 14th and with Venus on the 15th.
Sky & Telescope / Leah Tiscione

Hanging dramatically in the west during evening on Sunday, July 15th, will be a bright “star” and crescent: Venus and the Moon. The cosmic couple will be quite the eye-catcher if your sky is clear.

Look for them due west as twilight fades. The best viewing will probably be from about 40 to 60 minutes after your local sunset time. Hunt for them too early, and the sky will still be too bright to display them well. Look too late, and they’ll be sinking very low on their way to setting.

Also, look carefully a little to their lower right for the star Regulus twinkling away. It’s slightly less than 1% as bright as Venus.

Moreover, you may also be able to catch the planet Mercury much farther to their lower right. A line from Venus through Regulus points straight to it. Binoculars will help. (All descriptions are for viewers in North America.)

After sunset on July 15th, the 13%-sunlit crescent Moon sits about 2° from dazzling Venus as seen from the East Coast. But the gap closes dramatically — to just ½° — by the time the pair come into view on the West Coast. Note: don't wait until 10 p.m. to look for them, because by then they might have already set from you location.
Sky & Telescope / Stellarium

How close together the Moon and Venus will actually appear depends on where you are. Seen at dusk in the Eastern time zone, they’ll appear separated by about 2° — twice the width of your finger held at arm’s length. Seen from the West, they’ll be less than one finger apart — only ½°!

Inside the sunlit crescent, you might notice the rest of the Moon glowing dimly. What you’re seeing is called earthshine. It’s caused by the nearly full Earth in the Moon’s sky lighting up the nighttime lunar landscape – the same way the full Moon illuminates nighttime lanscapes on Earth.

If you have a telescope, this is a fine time to get it out. In addition to features on the Moon, it will show that Venus has a tiny, dazzling gibbous disk — demonstrating that this planet has Moon-like phases of its own.

Moon-Venus pairings are not unusual, but this one is more dramatic than most. Whenever Venus shines in the twilight sky, as it has been since late winter, the crescent Moon passes it once a month – though usually not so closely. For instance they’ll appear much farther apart at their next encounters on August 13th and September 11th (again for North America), and they’ll be down nearer to the horizon as well.

The glory of a Moon-Venus pairing is that these are the brightest two astronomical objects in our sky after the Sun. The Moon appears bright because it’s so close to us: about 240,000 miles, no farther than you might hope to drive a car with good maintenance and a little luck. The Moon is 100 times nearer to us than the closest planet ever gets.

“Closest planet” often means Venus, which near to us as planets go and also near to the Sun, so it gets illuminated very brightly. And it’s covered with white, highly reflective clouds.

“Close,” though, is always a relative thing in astronomy. Venus and the Moon might look like entrancing companions on Sunday night, but Venus — 88 million miles away — will be 380 times more distant.


Young moon, Venus and Mars conjunction

Find an unobstructed horizon in the direction of sunset. Then, as dusk gives way to darkness on July 11 and 12, look westward after sunset to catch young moon pairing up with the dazzling planet Venus. With binoculars, see if you can spot the much fainter planet Mars next to Venus in a single binocular field of view. If the whisker-thin crescent eludes your detection on July 11, try again on July 12. You won’t want to miss the beautiful evening presence of the moon and Venus!

Day by day, a wider yet still slender waxing crescent will appear higher up at sunset, and will stay our later after dark. On July 13, 14 and 15, 2021, the illuminated side of the moon serves as your arrow in the sky, pointing downward to the star Regulus and the planet Venus. Regulus, though a respectably bright star, pales in contrast to Venus, with Venus shining more than 100 times brighter than Regulus.

View larger. | Don’t expect a very young moon to pop out at you, brightly and noticeably. It’ll be a very subtle sight, the most fragile of crescents, set low in the sky just after sunset, against bright twilight. This very young moon was captured by our friend Susan Gies Jensen on February 10, 2013, in Odessa, Washington. Beautiful job, Susan! Thank you.

From most places worldwide – given clear skies and an unobstructed horizon – you should have a good chance of seeing both the newborn baby crescent and Venus some 45 minutes (or less) after sunset on July 11. After all, the moon and Venus rank as the second-brightest and third-brightest celestial bodies to light up the sky, respectively, after the sun. But don’t tarry! Venus (and Mars) will follow the sun beneath the horizon before nightfall at mid-northern latitudes and far-northern latitudes in contrast, Venus and Mars will set after nightfall in Southern Hemisphere.

When is nightfall?

We give the approximate time of nightfall (end of evening twilight), and Venus’ setting time at various latitudes (presuming an absolutely level horizon):

40 degrees north latitude
Venus sets: 1 hour and 35 minutes after sunset
Nightfall: 2 hours after sunset

Equator (0 degrees latitude)
Nightfall: 1 hour and 15 minutes after sunset
Venus sets: nearly 2 hours after sunset

35 degrees south latitude
Nightfall: 1 hour and 30 minutes after sunset
Venus sets: 2 hours and 10 minutes after sunset

Find out Venus’ specific setting time in your sky at Old Farmer’s Almanac or TimeandDate.com

We should mention that the setting time of the moon is variable, depending upon longitude as well. Find out the specific moonset time in your sky via TimeandDate.com.

Venus and Mars in conjunction on July 13

We did not mention Mars’ setting time because Mars and Venus set at nearly the same time for the next several days. With Venus outshining Mars by about 200 times, you will probably need binoculars to see Mars in the same binocular field with Venus. Depending on where you live worldwide, Venus and Mars will be closest together in the evening sky on July 12 or July 13. At conjunction, Venus will pass 1/2 degree north of Mars on July 13, 2021, at about 7 UTC. (For reference, the moon’s diameter spans about 1/2 degree of sky.)

After the moon goes by Venus (and Mars), it’ll lap Regulus, the constellation Leo’s one and only 1st-magnitude star, about a day later. Pay attention to this “fixed” star of the zodiac throughout the rest of July 2021, to note the changing positions of Venus and Mars.

Venus and Mars are both heading for Regulus as we speak. Venus will have a conjunction with Regulus on July 21, 2021, passing 1.2 degrees north of this star. Then, on July 29, 2021, Mars will rendezvous with Regulus, sweeping 0.7 degrees north of Leo’s brightest star.

In the meantime, be sure to get an eyeful of the young moon pairing up with Venus (and Mars) on July 11 and 12. Then, on the following evenings – July 13, 14 and 15 – use the moon’s illuminated side as your pointer to Regulus and Venus.

A fine example of earthshine on a waning crescent moon, as the moon shone near Venus in the morning sky on June 2, 2019. The lunar terminator – the line dividing the lunar day from the lunar night – shows you where it’s sunset on the old, waning crescent moon. Photo by Jenny Disimon.

What is earthshine

Also note – with the eye alone or an optical aid – the soft glow of earthshine adorning the dark or nighttime side of the moon. Earthshine is twice-reflected sunlight, with the Earth reflecting sunlight to the moon, and the moon, in turn, reflecting sunlight back to Earth. The lunar terminator – the line dividing the lunar day from the lunar night – shows you where it’s sunrise on the young, waxing crescent moon.

Make it a family affair and bring along the kids. Their young eyes may catch the young moon and Venus popping out at evening dusk before yours do.


Comments

February 25, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Wow Keeping my Camera ready and batteries charged to capture this rare and beautiful opportunity. Being at Delhi sight would be even more breathtaking.
Let see how Venus looks during broad daylight !!

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February 28, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Today A M 05.00 o'clock Moon With Venus botH very near we saw it from Madras India 13 lat - 80 long
Sam.G
SRCOM

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Wow I had to rub my eyes when I seen the most brilliant sight this morning on the way to work took some research for me to find out what it was. Very gorgeous a sight to behold from Norwood Ma. plain as day twinkling vibrantly next to the sliver of a moon at 5:40 am simply magnificent draws me back to my curiousity for astronomy as a teen. Wow. Beautiful.

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We had cloudy weather on Monday, 28-Feb-2011, but it was sparkling clear on Tuesday, 01-March. This sighting opportunity slipped my mind until about 1 pm local time (EST here in NJ).I used SkyTools to establish the general positions of the Moon and Venus, and went out for a look. They were about 18 and 12 deg high in the southwest.

I could not find either object naked eye, but he moon was easy to spot with 10x42 binoculars, and after finding it, I could see the crescent naked eye. No luck with Venus.

I then tried my 16x70 binoculars, and Venus was prominent once spotted (it was necessary to scan slowly if I moved the big binos quickly, it vanished). Knowing the spot, I was then able to find Venus in the 10x42s, but still not naked eye.

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Using my Planetarium for Palm (http://www.aho.ch/pilotplanets/) to point me to the moon at 9:00am EST on Tuesday, I spotted the pale moon and then used my 8x20 IS binoculars to find Venus. It looked brighter than the moon, but the moon's larger size made it easier to see. I tried to show it to a co-worker, but he couldn't pick out the moon even when we used nearby streams of clouds to point in the right direction.

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October 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm

After reading this article, I grabbed my 16x50 binoculars, and went looking, around the Moon for a little spark of light, it was about 11 am, (MST), and I finally found it. It was a breath-taking sight in the binoculars, but I decided to take a closer look. So I got my telescope out, and was even able to see it's phase, the Moon itself was also a pleasure to observe.

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February 29, 2012 at 3:42 am

Location: Caerphilly, South Wales
Date: Saturday 25 February 2012
Time: 15:30 UT
Bright blue clear sky.
The sun had gone behind the hedge at the back of the house.
Could see moon but unable to locate Venus.
Got out binoculars, found such a bright light, amazing.
Then saw it with naked eye.
RESULT!
Will try again at the end of March when Jupiter will be close by, let's hope for a fine day.


Astro Bob: See Venus and the moon in their closest conjunction of the year

While the Earth certainly isn't flat, we can say with confidence that the solar system is. Just look up in the sky for proof. The planets, sun and moon all circle the heavens on essentially the same path — called the ecliptic — through the same dozen constellations of the zodiac. They do this year after year, century after century. If you could literally get above it all and look down, the orbiting planets would remind you of runners assigned to lanes at a track event. All run on the same flat track.

Because Earth is one of those runners, when we look off at our fellow planets in the distance we occasionally see them along the same line of sight — one nearer, the other farther away. They may even appear to "touch" as one passes the other. These brief, line-of-sight pairings of planets are called conjunctions., and they're some of the most beautiful sights in the sky.

The moon's path is slightly different. Its orbit is tipped 5.1° relative to the Earth's orbit. As it circles the planet, it weaves a little above and below the ecliptic like a car weaving on a freeway. But it still "keeps with the flow" and minds the ecliptic. Being much closer to us, the moon circles through all the zodiac constellations in just under a month. That means it's in conjunction with every planet in the sky every month. But because it weaves, the separation between moon and planet varies at each conjunction. To be fair, the solar system isn't exactly flat either. Each planet's orbit is slightly tilted in relation to the Earth's. This also contributes to the uniqueness of each alignment..

The most dramatic conjunctions are the close ones, when the moon shines right next to a bright planet like Venus or Jupiter. One look and you're mesmerized. Venus and the moon undergo 12 conjunctions in 2021, but the best by far will occur Wednesday evening, May 12. Don't miss it!

Find a location with an unobstructed view to the northwest. The viewing window is brief — only about 25 minutes. Start looking for the thin crescent 20 minutes after the sun sets. Once you've spotted it, gleaming Venus lies just 1° or two moon-diameters to its right. To make sure you're on time, use this calculator to find out when the sun sets for your city.

Observers in the Eastern Time Zone will see the moon and Venus paired up a little closer at 0.8°, while in California, where the sun sets two hours after it does in New York, 1.5° will separate them. Their changing separation is caused by the moon, which is always on the move. By the time the sky gets dark on the West Coast, it will have nearly doubled its apparent distance from Venus.

Over the course of 24 hours, the moon travels 13° up and away from the sun, equal to a little more than a clenched fist held at arm's length. The very next evening, May 13, it leaves Venus behind to find a new companion in Mercury. Mercury is fainter than Venus, and their separation will be larger, around 3°. Though a less dramatic pairing, it's a gift in disguise. Finding Mercury couldn't be easier!

Although mobile phones aren't generally the best cameras for astrophotography there you'll have enough light to capture a pretty scene of the Venus-moon conjunction. Find a cool setting and fire away. If you have a DSLR you can experiment with different focal length lenses to zoom in or "go wide." Set your ISO to 400, the lens to f/4 (or thereabouts) and start with an exposure around 1/125th or 1/60th of a second. As it gets darker out, increase your exposure time will increase. Make sure you focus sharply on the moon before taking pictures.


Don’t miss young moon and Venus after sunset (Neptune’s there, too)

How many of you have been watching the dazzling planet Venus – third-brightest celestial object, after the sun and moon – in the west at dusk and nightfall? If you haven’t seen it yet, just look in the sunset direction for this brilliant beauty to pop out some 45 minutes to an hour after the sun goes down. People with excellent vision might see Venus earlier, almost immediately after sundown.

And while you’re out there gazing at the moon and Venus, be aware of this. There are two other worlds in the west after sunset now.

First, look for Mercury, below Venus. Will you see Mercury? Maybe. It’s not as bright as Venus, and it’s closer to the sunset glare. You’ll need to look for very shortly after the sun goes down. Read more.

The third planet is Neptune. It’s very close to Venus on late January 2020 evenings, but not visible to the eye alone. On January 27, 2020, Venus and Neptune will stage the closest conjunction of any two planets this year. Read more.

So Mercury … maybe. Neptune … for those with telescopes. Meanwhile Venus and the moon will be easy to see. The picturesque sky scene begins on January 26, when the young moon will come into view close to the western horizon, below Venus. That’ll be a sweet scene to catch. Especially on January 26, don’t dally. The whisker-thin waxing crescent moon will set before nightfall on that date. In fact, from some places worldwide, you might need binoculars to tease out the lunar crescent from the glare of evening twilight on the 26th. No matter where you are on Earth, though, given an unobstructed horizon and clear skies, you shouldn’t have any trouble spotting the young moon at dusk/nightfall after the sun sets on January 27 or 28.

Want to know when the moon sets in your sky? Click on this Moonrise and Moonset Calculator.

From the Southern Hemisphere, the ecliptic (green line on our chart) will be slanted from upper right to lower left. Use Stellarium online to get your location’s precise view.

Helio C. Vital caught the planet Mercury on January 21, 2020, when it was only 2 degrees above the western horizon after sunset. He wrote: “I used a Nikon CoolPix P900 camera to capture over the sea. Since I was holding it with my hands and contrast with the bright sky near the sun was very poor, the image exhibits a high level of noise.” Thank you, Helio! View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Dave Chapman of Nova Scotia, Canada, was vacationing in Cayo Coco, Cuba, on January 25, 2020, when he captured the young crescent moon with Mercury after sunset. He wrote: “The sky was clear but quite hazy, accounting for the redness of the sky.”

Will you spot Mercury? On all of these evenings – January 26, 27, 28 and 29 – use the lit side of the lunar crescent to spot Mercury, the innermost planet of the solar system. The crescent will be pointing to Mercury, which is just now coming into view after sunset. You’ll likely need binoculars to spot it at evening dusk in late January 2020. Some people assume Mercury is very faint that’s not so. Mercury is brighter than a 1st-magnitude star it just seems faint because we nearly always see it against a bright twilight background.

Mercury will reach its greatest elongation from the sun on February 10, 2020. Use binoculars to spot Mercury all the sooner after sundown. Then try to spot it without your binoculars. Visit timeaddate.com and enter your location to find out when Mercury sets in your sky.

At this evening apparition of Mercury, the Northern Hemisphere enjoys a more favorable view than the Southern Hemisphere. From temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, Mercury will likely be particularly difficult to see, because this world sits deeper in the glare of evening twilight and sets sooner after sunset.

View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Dr Ski in Valencia, Philippines, caught Neptune near Venus on January 25, 2020. He wrote: “The conjunction of Venus and Neptune will occur 2 nights from now. But Neptune will be lost in Venus’ glare and very difficult to image. Venus is 60,000 times brighter than Neptune! Even tonight I cannot make out Neptune through my binoculars.” Thank you, Dr Ski! Click here for more photos of the January 27 Venus-Neptune conjunction

The Venus-Neptune conjunction on January 27, 2020. As you enjoy the moon and Venus on these late January evenings, be aware that Venus, the sky’s brightest planet, is now paired up with Neptune, the sky’s faintest planet. Neptune is the most distant major planet in our solar system. It’s the only solar system planet that you absolutely cannot see without an optical aid. This world is some six times fainter than the faintest star that’s visible to the unaided eye.

So you won’t see Neptune with the eye. But amateur astronomers with small telescopes have had them trained on Venus for some time, watching for Venus and Neptune to stage the closest planetary conjunction of the year on January 27, 2020. At conjunction, these two worlds are spaced only 1/12th of one degree apart. Photo opportunity indeed (for those with telescopes)! For reference, the angular diameter of the moon spans about 1/2 degree, which is some six times greater than the tiny gap between Venus and Neptune.

Given that Venus outshines Neptune by about 60,000 times, it might be hard to glimpse Neptune in Venus’ glare at conjunction even with an optical aid. Venus will also be stunningly close to the 4th magnitude star Phi Aquarii at this time. Don’t mistake Phi Aquarii for Neptune. Phi Aquarii, though rather faint, is a good 30 times brighter than Neptune and can be seen by the eye alone on a dark night.

For many of us, it’ll be easier to view Neptune with an optical aid several days to a week after the January 27 Venus/Neptune conjunction. Venus will have moved away from Neptune, yet Neptune and the star Phi Aquarii will remain close together. This dim star will allow you locate Neptune, absent the glare of Venus.

Joe Kingore in Joplin, Missouri, caught the January 18, 2018, young moon with earthshine. What is earthshine? When the moon appears as a slender crescent in Earth’s sky, the Earth appears as an almost-full waning gibbous Earth in the moon’s sky. Earthshine is twice-reflected sunlight. That is, it’s sunlight reflected from the Earth to the moon, and then from the moon back to Earth. Read more.

Watch for earthshine, too. As you enjoy the lunar crescent on these late January 2020 evenings, note the soft glow of earthshine on the darkened portion of the moon. A moon with earthshine is not a moon in eclipse no shadow or world in space is obscuring any other. Instead, you’re simply seeing the nighttime side of the moon, and, as it happens, the lunar night is covered over with earthshine: sunlight reflected from Earth to the moon. You know how a bright full moon can light up an earthly landscape? It’s the same on the moon, where a nearly full Earth shines now in the lunar night sky. On the moon, though, it’s earthlight that illuminates the scene. It’s that same earthlight (or earthshine, as we earthlings call it) you’re seeing on a waxing crescent moon.

View larger. | Venus’ appearance in the evening sky from superior conjunction (August 14, 2019) to inferior conjunction (June 3, 2020). Chart by Guy Ottewell via his blog.

Bottom line: After sunset on January 26, 27 and 28, 2020, watch for the young moon and planet Venus in the west at dusk and nightfall. Use the lit side of the moon to locate Mercury, the innermost planet. If you have a telescope, use Venus to locate Neptune, the farthest planet.



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