Don’t Miss This Weekend’s Planetary Pageant / Charon’s Belly Button

The moon joins Venus and Jupiter in the western sky Saturday July 18th at dusk. Source: Stellarium
The moon joins Venus and Jupiter in the western sky Saturday July 18th at dusk. Only 1° or two moon diameters will separate Venus and the crescent. Source: Stellarium

Time to tear ourselves away from Pluto for a few minutes to see what else is happening in the sky. I’m sure you won’t mind a little break. While we’ve all been staring at the dwarf planet and Charon on our computer screens, the moon’s been following its ancient arc. New moon occurred yesterday evening. Tonight a super-thin crescent will be all but impossible to see at sunset, but come Saturday, the 3-day-old moon will join Venus and Jupiter in the western sky at dusk for a beautiful gathering.

The highlight of the grouping will be a striking close conjunction of Venus and the moon for skywatchers in mid-northern latitudes; they’ll be a degree or less apart. But if you live in in Australia, parts of Indonesia and the South Pacific, the moon will actually occult or cover up the planet around 1:00 Universal Time (UT).

The next good occultation of Venus by the moon for North American observers happens during the daytime on December 7.

Even before the sun sets Saturday, face west and find the moon in the daytime sky. Then point your binoculars at it and see if you can find Venus before sunset. It should be easy as long as there’s no thick haze about. Look a little to the left and above the crescent. Good luck and I hope you have clear, smoke-free skies!

This new image of an area on Pluto's largest moon Charon has a captivating feature -- a depression with a peak in the middle, shown here in the upper left corner of the inset. The image shows an area approximately 240 miles (390 kilometers) from top to bottom, including few visible craters. The image was taken at approximately 6:30 a.m. EDT on July 14, 2015, about 1.5 hours before closest approach to Pluto, from a range of 49,000 miles (79,000 kilometers). Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI
This new image of an area on Pluto’s largest moon Charon has fascinating feature — a depression with a peak in the middle, shown here in the upper left corner of the inset. The image shows an area approximately 240 miles (390 kilometers) from top to bottom, including few visible craters. The image was taken at approximately 5:30 a.m. CDT on July 14, 2015, about 1.5 hours before closest approach to Pluto, from a range of 49,000 miles (79,000 km).
Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI

Oh, OK … I can’t help it. Here’s today’s new close up photo from the Pluto team. It shows a part of Charon with an belly button-like depression in its crust with a mountain in the middle.

4 Responses

  1. Brian

    Thanks Astro Bob, I will be looking westward on Sat. night.

    Also (I can’t help it either), NASA will be releasing new Pluto images and science findings on Fri., July 17, at 1 p.m. EDT. It will be streamed live on NASA TV -> http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/

    I’m really curious about that “pimento” area at the 1 o’clock position on the edge of Charon and hope we’ll see more of it.

  2. Troy

    It is interesting to compare the Moon and Venus because they will both be crescents. My plan is to photograph them both with the same telescope in order showcase them together. This will maintain their relative angular size.

    Both Pluto and Charon are incredibly interesting. I wonder if this will support or disprove the impactor theory of the Pluto system.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Troy,
      Please send me a photo if you get one. Just wrapped up writing the new Pluto material after attending today’s online press conference.

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