The half-moon creeps up on the planet Uranus this evening. The two will be near each other all night in the constellation Pisces, but closest – less than one-third of a moon diameter apart – just before midnight (CST). The views are what you’ll see in a pair of binoculars. The 4th magnitude star Delta Piscium is at top in the field. Source: Stellarium
Sunlight. Moonlight. Starlight. I saw all three for the first time in weeks yesterday. Filled with photons, I feel lighter today, less burdened. Ready to float off the floor.
Seattle, two time zones west of the Midwest, will see the two closest around 9:30 p.m. local time. Source: Stellarium
There’s a nice event you’ll want to see tonight if only because it’s so effortless. The half-moon will pass very close to the planet Uranus for skywatchers across North America this Sunday evening Dec. 28th.
Pop the rubber lens caps off those binoculars and point them at the moon. If you look a short distance to the left you’ll notice a star-like object. That’s the planet!
You can do this anytime it’s dark, but the later you look the better because the moon moves eastward and closer to the planet as the hours tick by. Early in the evening, the two will be separated by a couple degrees, but around 11:30 p.m. CST (9:30 p.m. PST) when the moon reclines in the western sky, the planet will dangle like an solitary diamond less than a third of a lunar diameter away. When closest to the Moon, Uranus may prove tricky to see in its glare. If you hide the Moon behind a chimney, roofline or power pole, you’ll find it easier to see the planet.
Binocular view from the desert city of Tucson around 10:45 p.m. local time tonight. The moon’s farther north of the planet compared to the view from Seattle because the 1,500 miles between the two cities is enough to shift the moon’s position against the background stars. Source: Stellarium
The farther north you live, the closer the twain will be. Skywatchers in Japan, the northeastern portion of Russia, northern Canada and Alaska will see the moon completely hide Uranus for a time.
The farther west you are, the higher the moon will be when they conjoin. West Coast states see the pair highest when they’re closest.
The radically different character of each world can best be appreciated in a telescope. Pump the magnification up to 150x and slide both planet and moon into the same field of view. Uranus, a pale blue dot, wears a permanent cover of methane-laced clouds where temperatures hover around -350°F (-212°C).
Though the moon will be lower in the sky at closest approach, observers in the eastern U.S. and Canada will still see planet and moon just 1/2 degree apart before moonset. Source: Stellarium
The fantastically large-appearing moon in contrast has precious little atmosphere and its sunny terrain bakes at 250°F (121°C). And just look at those craters! First-quarter phase is one of the best times for moon viewing because the terminator or shadow-line that divides lunar day from night slices right across the middle of the lunar landscape.
Shadows cast by mountain peaks and crater rims are longest and most dramatic around this time because we look squarely down upon them. At crescent and gibbous phases, the terminator is off to one side and craters and their shadows appear scrunched and foreshortened.
The day-night line or terminator cuts across a magnificent landscape rich with craters and mountain ranges emerging from the lunar night. Several prominent lunar “seas” or maria and prominent craters are shown. Credit: Christian Legrand and Patrick Chevalley / Virtual Moon Atlas
Enjoy the view and consider the depth of space your view encompasses. Uranus is 1.85 billion miles from Earth today — 7,700 times farther away than the half moon.