Maybe you caught the moon the past few mornings still bright in the southern sky at sunrise. Maybe you even noticed it was approaching Jupiter and Venus. If you haven’t ,you’re in luck — the best is yet to come. All three objects will line up in a row 8° long tomorrow at dawn. Most striking will be the crescent and Venus, separated by just 1.5°. The further west you live the closer they’ll be. From San Francisco, only three-quarters of a degree stands between them, while from Anchorage, Alaska, the delicate crescent will hang just one full moon diameter (0.5°) below Venus.
The reason the moon will be closer to Venus for western U.S. skywatchers compared to the view further east is because the Earth has to spin a couple more hours to carry the moon and planets up from below the eastern horizon. For example, when the sun is just rising in New York, it’s still dark in Denver. Two hours later, the sun rises over Colorado.
During those couple hours the moon keeps moving east (to the left as seen in the northern hemisphere) along its orbit, so it steadily closes in on Venus while distancing itself from Jupiter. As a handy rule of thumb, the moon moves its own diameter in an hour.
Notice we have a third planet just now entering the morning sky — Saturn. It’s still really low, so if you want to spot it, find a location with a wide open view to the southeast and bring binoculars as backup. Mars has certainly been the evening sky’s steadfast planet, and I’m glad for it, but I really enjoy seeing the morning sky get re-populated again. Three planets and counting! All reside in constellations we normally see on summer nights. Six months from now when we’re all in shirtsleeves, Jupiter and Saturn will be beacons during the evening hours.
Make sure you dress well for tomorrow’s heavenly feast. We had 29° F below here (actual temp.) this morning at my house. I’m not sure what the wind chill was, but whew, the wind was sharp. Norman Sanker, one of our readers, points out that the close approach of the moon to Venus makes this an excellent opportunity to see the planet in the morning daytime sky. He recommends looking between 8 and 10 a.m. and standing in the shadow of a building to block the bright sun. Find the moon and then look a short distance to its upper left for Venus. Or you can use binoculars to pinpoint Venus and then use your eyes. Let us know if you succeed!