I hope some of you got to see Venus alongside the crescent moon yesterday afternoon. The view through binoculars was simply amazing. Venus was brilliant compared to the dull moon. Though the moon was officially brighter — magnitude -9 vs. -4.5 for Venus — the planet’s surface brightness was far higher because it’s wrapped in clouds that reflect sunlight well. The moon in contrast is covered in charcoal-toned dust and rocks.
The difference between the two could not have been more profound. By the way, the moon was only brighter overall. What it lacked in surface brightness, it made up in surface area.
Perseid meteor shower activity is winding down, but I managed to catch a busy spell when I stepped out at 3:15 this morning. Four meteors including a sputtering fireball shot out of Perseus in just five minutes of looking up. Amateur astronomer John Chumack uses a low-light video camera to record meteors from his home in Dayton, Ohio. He compiled all the meteor images he captured over August 11-12 into a single video. Hit play to see 220 Perseids fly by in just 2 minutes!
Venus reaches greatest elongation tomorrow (Aug. 15) when it’s as far off to one side of the sun as it can get. That means it rises well ahead of the sun and stands high in the eastern sky at dawn. For Duluth, Minn. the planet comes up at 2:30 a.m., fully 3 1/2 hours before sunrise. As seen from Earth, Venus is almost exactly 50 percent illuminated by the sun and looks like a little half moon in a telescope. When the planet is west of the sun and visible in the morning hours, astronomers say it’s at greatest western elongation. At greatest eastern elongation, Venus shines in the evening sky and its other half is lit. At “full” and “new moon” phases the planet is either nearly in front of or behind the sun and lost in the solar glare.
While you’re out admiring Venus, look much lower in the northeastern sky about 45 minutes before sunrise for yet another planet at greatest western elongation – Mercury. Mercury is farthest west of the sun (18 degrees) on the 16th and easy to see if you have a wide open view to the east. The moon helps point the way tomorrow morning.