Moon and planets align this weekend – don’t miss it

What a sky show tonight! Venus and the moon are joined by Jupiter and Mercury in the western sky during evening twilight. Maps created with Stellarium

If it’s clear in the west tonight, your eyes will twinkle with extra added sparkle. The crescent moon slides just a few degrees to the right of Venus, while Jupiter shines above and Mercury below. You’ll want to be out about a half hour after sunset to see Mercury glowing ember-like in the pale orange of dusk just eight degrees above the western horizon. The other three luminaries are much higher in the sky and visible  up to 3 hours after sunset.

I’ve drawn in the ecliptic, the line that defines the path of the planets, just so you can see how flat our solar system is. If it wasn’t, the planets might be all over the sky and never line up as they will be tonight.  In order of brightness, Venus at magnitude -4.2 ranks first by a significant margin, Jupiter does its level best at -2.2 and tiny but feisty Mercury manages a very respectable -1.1, rivaling the star Sirius (-1.4).

See if you can find Venus even before the sun sets tonight. With help from the moon, it's not too difficult to spot.

Have you ever seen a star or planet in the daytime? You’ll have a shot at it this evening thanks to the moon. If the sky is clear and free of haze, you’re ready to go.

Face toward the sun around 4:30-5 p.m. and look high up to the left to find the crescent moon. Now look a little (about 3 degrees to be exact) to the lower left of the moon for a tiny star-like spot of light against the blue. That’s Venus! Feel free to cheat a little by using binoculars first. Make sure you focus them sharply on the moon, then place the crescent in the upper right of the field of view. You should easily spot Venus to the lower left. Lower the binoculars from your eyes and stare at that spot without optical aid. If you can see what looks like a tiny white spark against the blue sky, you’ve nailed it.

The map above shows the moon and Venus for the U.S. Midwest around 5 p.m. For sky watchers in the western states, the moon will be more directly above the planet and the two slightly farther apart. For European viewers, the the moon will lie almost directly to the right of the planet. The moon’s position with respect to Venus changes depending on your time zone, because it’s moving upward and to the east as it orbits the Earth.

How our four bright, shiny objects will appear through the telescope tonight. C=Callisto, E=Europa, Io and G=Ganymede. Illustration: Bob King / Moon photo by Frank Barrett

If you have a telescope that magnifies around 50x and up, Mercury will look like a very tiny gibbous moon, Venus a little more than half-full and all four of Jupiter’s brightest satellites will be beautifully displayed on either side of the planet. And don’t forget the moon. Lots of craters and other interesting features will greet your eye. As always, I hope it’s clear over your neighborhood tonight.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

20 thoughts on “Moon and planets align this weekend – don’t miss it

      • I was amazed at how ‘high’ Mercury was when I first spotted it – a lot higher up than expected. I wasted ten or fifteen minutes looking too low, until I tilted the binoculars up a bit and suddenly saw it in the still bright sky. I was easily able to follow it down to the horizon for nearly an hour, with the naked eye.

  1. I live about halfway between Cripple Creek and Divide, Colorado, at approximately 9300 feet. I saw this phenomenon last night, but didn’t know what it was until I talked to a friend today. Our skies are very clear because of high winds. On top of the alignment, we get the “alpenglow” over the horizon, and the sky was gorgeous – one of the best I’ve seen in my (long) lifetime. I even called a friend down the road and told her to go out and look at the sky. Absolutely unbelievable view from here!

  2. I’ve been watching Jupiter catch up to Venus all winter. Neat to see them all aligned at twilight tonight here in western North Carolina. Unfortunately, the geography hid Mercury from my vantage point, but the other three “stars” made up for it.

  3. I can’t tell you how much I love your site, Astrobob! I first began following you during the comet Elenin fear-mongering. Your knowledge and passion are so valued, and your photography is breathtaking. Thank you from a loyal reader way down south in Texas!

    • Michael,
      You might also have seen Mercury very low in the western sky. That would make four planets total. The other fifth object you’re seeing is a star. If you know it’s location, I might be able to ID it.

  4. I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your web site. I didn’t really pay attention to stars and planets until last year and got my first telescope at Christmas. I also use Stellerium. I live in Knoxville, but we have a cabin about an hour away that the stars really shine bright and it’s easier to see the constellations. Now if I can understand how to work the telescope, i’ll be all set. Looking forward to future posts.

    • Hi Martha,
      Thank you for writing, and I’m happy you enjoy the blog. My dad’s brother Jack King lived in Knoxville and I was down that way a couple times when I was younger. Jack played and taught piano there.

  5. I had daytime binocular observations of both Venus and Jupiter today, in broad, no-cloud sunlight in Connecticut. At 1 PM local! Amazing. I figured out the rough locations from Stellarium and easily could see the crescent moon, so I used that as my point of reference. They were each just one or two binoc fields away from the moon. Venus was a clear, distinct dot of light. Jupiter was a bit fuzzy, but definitely a “something’s there.”

    Have never even tried a middle-of-the-day observation before. Incredible.

  6. Something just hit me to go outside a look at the moon from my telescope its been a while….but why am i looking at a big shiny OBJECT OBJECT i kid u not never seen before i advice to please go out if u have a telescope and see it for yourself

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