Moon Hangs By A Fingernail Tonight

Look for the fingernail moon about 3-4 “fingers” above the west-southwestern horizon this evening shortly after sunset. Created with Stellarium

Barely there. That’s how you might describe the moon tonight. Only 22-25 hours old, one of the thinnest crescents you’ll ever see basks in orange glow of twilight this evening (Jan. 28). New Moon occurred yesterday at 6:07 Central time, making tonight’s crescent 23 hours old for Midwesterners, 22 hours for those out East, 24 for the mountain states and 25 for the West Coast.

Find a wide open view to the west and start looking for the wispy moon about 20-25 minutes after sunset less than a fist high in the bright glow of sundown. Bring binoculars to make the job easier. You can achieve a sharp focus by first pointing and focusing your glass on Venus, much higher up in the southwestern sky. Then use Venus, along with Mars, to point you in approximately the right direction toward the southwestern horizon.

A pretty double-conjunction of the moon with Venus and Mars will make a striking sight Tuesday evening, Jan. 31. Created with Stellarium

Photographers, this is a great opportunity to photograph a very young moon. In bright twilight, exposures can be short. First, attach your camera to a tripod and then experiment using ISO 400 at f/2.8 or f/4 and exposing anywhere from 1/4″ to several seconds. Since the moon has a sharp, bright edge, autofocus should work OK.

Tonight’s lunar appearance foreshadows an excellent double conjunction on Tuesday evening, Jan. 31, when a thicker, higher crescent hangs below the planet pair of Mars and Venus. The trio should make for wonderful photo opportunities. Since they’ll be higher up in the sky, you’ll have a wider choice of interesting foregrounds from which to pick.

The uneven appearance of this 24-hour-old crescent moon is created by long shadows from mountains and craters cutting into narrow slice of sunlit moon. Credit: Bob King

Enjoy these occasional celestial huddles. They can’t help but pick up our spirits. And with the space station back making evening passes, check Heavens Above and the maps the site provides to see if any triple conjunctions between the station, the moon and planets are in store for your town.