A Painting In The Western Sky

Tonight's gathering of Moon, Jupiter, Venus and transcontinental airliner in the western sky in mid-twilight Sunday. Details: 35mm lens at f/4.5, ISO 400 and 6 seconds. Photo: Bob King

I hope you had a chance to see the spectacle of moon and planets in the western sky Sunday evening. The full circle of the moon is visible alongside Jupiter. The bright part of the circle (crescent) is illuminated by the sun, while the remainder of the moon shines by sunlight reflected from Earth’s clouds, water and land. Earthshine is much fainter than direct sunlight, which is why that portion of the moon glows only weakly.

Not far above the pair is Venus and the Seven Sisters star cluster. Very eye-catching all!

Tonight the moon will be next to Venus and even closer than it is to Jupiter tonight, but you don’t have to wait till dusk to see the pair. Why not try and spot them in binoculars before sunset?

See if you can spot Venus in the daytime today using the moon as your guide. All you need is a pair of binoculars. If your sky's really clear, Venus will be visible with the naked eye. Time shown is CDT. Created with Stellarium

The moon is fairly easy to see in a clear sky by late afternoon and early evening. Once you find it, take a look through binoculars and you’ll have no problem seeing Venus not far to its upper right. Seeing Venus in a sunlit sky can be challenging, but with the moon nearby you’ve got the cosmos on your side. Give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised how easy it is. And once you’ve spotted the duo in binoculars, take the next step and try to pick out Venus with your naked eye.

The maps show the pair for the central U.S. If you live on the East Coast, Venus will be a tad higher to the right; for the West Coast they’ll be more “level” or in line with each other.

Excellent cloud details show up in this photo of Venus taken on March 24, 2012. Credit: George Tarsoudis

George Tarsoudis of Greece took a wonderful image of Venus that shows far more detail than what you’d see with your eyes through any telescope. Using a digital camera and ultraviolet filters on his 10-inch scope, he captured textures in the planet’s clouds not visible in everyday “visual” light.

Even to the most seasoned observers rarely see detail in Venus’ clouds due to their extremely low contrast. His photo reminds me of the images taken by the Pioneer Venus Orbiter spacecraft in 1979.

11 Responses

  1. caralex

    Slightly off topic Bob, but can you tell me how often Venus comes to inferior conjunction? Does it happen at a regular interval, or is there a different amount of time between each conjunction? I think it’s less than once a year, isn’t it?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Carol,
      The upcoming inferior conjunction happens on June 6. The next is Jan. 11, 2014 and the previous was on Oct. 29, 2010. The interval is about one year, 7 months.

      1. astrobob

        Hi Carol,
        The interval between inferior conjunctions is about 1 year, 7 months. The upcoming conjunction is June 6. The previous was October 29, 2010 and the next is Jan. 11, 2014.

  2. Gary

    Bob, wonderful picture you seem to have an eye for this sort of thing. I’ve been enjoying Venus and all your articles as well. Great stuff


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