September 1, 2016
by William J. Bechaver
EARTH — Last week, we looked closer at two very interesting planetary conjunctions in our night skies. We had a few cloudy evenings to contend with, but still, both provided marvelous glimpses of the amazing groupings of our planets.
Now this week, though the conjunctions don’t remain so close, another player joins the groupings, making them even more spectacular to enjoy as the moon is entering the evening sky.
First, on the evening of Friday, September 2, the fine crescent moon will join Venus and Jupiter in the evening sky. Last week, the two planets appeared incredibly close to each other. This week, though a little further spaced, they are still a beautiful sight to behold. And yet, the spectacle is ever increased by the arrival of the moon into the neighborhood.
On Friday evening, the moon will be less than a half of a degree from the dimmer and more distant Jupiter, appearing between it and brighter Venus, up and to the left. For an added bonus, go out shortly after sunset and look below the closest pair. About halfway to the horizon, see if you can pick out minuscule and dim Mercury, nearly lost in the diminishing sun glare.
As Mercury sinks below the horizon, and the skies darken, the grouping of the moon, Venus, and Jupiter will be an inspiring sight, as they slowly sink lower into the west, all finally setting less than an hour after the sun set.
But the spectacular tour of the moon is not over for the week. Next Thursday, September 8, it will join Mars and Saturn in the late evening sky. Go out following sunset, and look to the south. The moon will be the easiest to spot, nearing the first quarter phase. Below it, and a little to the right, it will be easy to pick out amazing Saturn. To the east of the two, and below a bit, forming almost a perfect right angle, you can find nearer and brighter Mars. They will all set slightly before eleven that evening.
The following night, go out about the same time. Now the moon will be above and east of the pair, closer to Mars. By this, you can see the progression of the moon over the course of one day. Again, they will set around eleven, bringing to a close the moon’s visit for this month. But next week, we’ll reexplore the grouping, and anticipate the one next month, as the summer wanes, and we enter autumn.
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