Full Wolf Moon Night And A Big Day For Venus

Time to go out for a howl under the Full Wolf Moon tonight. This is the view facing east this evening around 6:30 p.m. local time. Stellarium

Could there be anything more romantic than snowblowing by the light of a full moon? The answer is an obvious “yes,” but I still want to share how tickled I was when the moon when the moon cut free of the clouds to shine on my driveway last night. Crisp shadows made it easy to find the cut and mow the snow away. Toiling in moonlight really does feel more magical than working under the sun.

Tonight, we get to enjoy the Full Wolf Moon. You’ll see its big, shiny disk rise in Gemini the Twins across from Orion around sunset. By midnight, it stands high in the south, pouring a seemingly impossible amount of light across the landscape like syrup on pancakes. Pull up the window shade and let it the radiance illuminate a darkened room or go outside and experience it firsthand.

The Full Wolf Moon will shine all night long and set around sunrise tomorrow morning. Click the photo to find out when the moon rises for your location. Credit: Bob King

The moment of full moon actually occurs tomorrow morning at 5:34 a.m. Central time, but to the eye, it will probably look perfectly round this evening. Only a small telescope will still show the remainder of the terminator, the line dividing day and night on the moon. It will lie at the extreme left (east direction in the sky) edge of the lunar disk.

The terminator is where the sun is rising on the moon when it’s waxing and where it’s setting when the moon is waning after full phase. Along this line, crater walls, hills and knobs cast shadows that reveal textures and forms. Far away from the terminator, say the center of the full moon, the sun appears directly overhead for an astronaut there, and all detail is washed out in blinding, shadowless light.

This is Venus a few nights ago. The second planet out from the sun has been moving closer to Earth and slowly getting brighter and higher over the past few months. Tomorrow, it reaches its greatest distance from the sun in the sky and stands brazenly bright at dusk in the southwestern sky. Credit: Bob King

There’s news about another bright light. Tomorrow, Thursday the 12th, Venus will reach greatest elongation east. You’ve probably noticed how the planet has gotten higher and brighter at dusk over the past few months. There comes a time when Venus reaches the end of its tether and then begins to drop back toward the sun as seen from our perspective on Earth. That day is Thursday, when the planet will be 47° (almost five fists) to the east of the sun, as far as she gets. Come Friday, Venus will appear to reverse direction and slowly (at first) turn back toward the sun.

As Venus orbits the sun, it catches up on the slower Earth and passes it. Right now, we see Venus furthest from the sun at greatest eastern elongation (at left). Come late March, the planet will swing between Earth and sun in inferior conjunction. As Venus’ angle to the sun changes, its phase does too. It’s a “half-moon” this month and headed toward crescent phase. Credit: ESO with annotations by the author

Over time, we’ll see the planet gradually drop lower and lower in the west until it’s lost for a week or so in the solar glare before popping up in the morning sky. Keep in mind that Venus continues to orbit the sun as usual and at the same distance. It will only appear to fall back toward the sun in the next couple months because the faster-moving planet is approaching Earth and will swing between us and the sun on March 25. Each night, the angle between the sun and Venus narrows, until we see both in the same line of sight on March 25, the date the planet is in conjunction with the sun.

The goddess planet is becoming more interesting to look at in a telescope, too. Even a small instrument will show it as a glaringly bright “half-moon.” To see it more clearly and without the glare, try observing it in twilight, when it first comes into view.