Planets and the Moon

The planets Venus and Mercury are close buddies this week but they part company later in the month.
Venus is easiest to spot, low in the southwestern sky after sunset. Venus is brilliant and above the horizon, amid the light of twilight.

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Planetary Lineup

Three planets form a line in the early evening this weekend but the alignment won’t last. Mercury, Venus and Jupiter are close together low in the southwestern sky, visible less than an hour after sunset. The view is short, as they set quickly as twilight turns into night.

Venus and Jupiter are the easiest to spot, with Venus being the brightest. Venus is so bright it looks like an airplane coming in with landing lights on. Jupiter appears right underneath and it, too, is bright but not nearly as brilliant.

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Stars and Planets, Moon and Tides

The moon passes by two brilliant stars this weekend. After sunset, the first quarter moon appears high in the sky tonight, near the bright star Regulus. Regulus is the principal star in the zodiacal constellation Leo.

On Sunday night, the gibbous moon appears farther east, close to Spica, the principal star in the zodiacal constellation Virgo.

Spica is distant and light reaches us after a 262 year journey. Regulus is a good deal closer at 77 light years away.

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Planetary Alignment

A planetary lineup takes place right after sunset later this month. Three readily visible planets, Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will hug the western horizon early in the evening each night over the Memorial Day weekend. But the elements of the lineup can be seen now, and in the nights ahead Vineyarders can watch two planets come together.

Tomorrow night, about an hour after sunset, look toward the west. A thin crescent moon appears beneath the brilliant planet Jupiter and above Venus. The three are in the zodiacal constellation Taurus.

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Dance of Two Planets

Venus has staged a comeback. The brightest planet in our night skies appears low in the southwestern sky, close to the horizon, just after sunset. Last year Venus was mostly a morning planet.

Jupiter is higher in the western sky, visible at twilight and easier to see. But soon the two planets will change places.

In the weeks ahead Jupiter and Venus will appear closer together in the western sky. By the end of May they will be side by side. Since they are the brightest visible planets, the changing positions will be hard to miss.

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Moon and Saturn

The Moon and Saturn appear as a pair low in the eastern sky after sunset tonight. The two are in the zodiacal constellation Libra. The moon is one day past full moon and only slightly dimmer than it was last night.
This weekend, the moon passes through the zodiacal constellation Scorpius, a constellation we most often associate with summer. If you are up late tonight, around midnight, the constellations you mostly see are our summer constellations.

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Missing Planets

The planets Venus and Mars, once the brightest planets in our night sky, have disappeared from view. They are still out there, but they are appearing so close to the Sun as to be hidden from us.

Looking ahead, both will reappear in our sky but at opposite ends of the night.

Venus is speeding around the Sun and will soon appear low in our western sky. The earliest you may be able to see Venus will be in May and it will be an evening planet. Venus spent last winter as our morning planet.

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Winter Constellations Slip Away

The ringed-planet Saturn rises late in the evening.  On Sunday night, the planet is accompanied by the gibbous moon. Both rise in the east at about 11 p.m., and are in the zodiacal constellation Libra.

Early Tuesday morning, two days later, the last quarter moon appears low in the southeastern sky. The moon rises after midnight and is in the zodiacal constellation Scorpius, a constellation we more often associate with summer.

Spring is Coming

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Crescent Moon

The moon returns to our evening skies in the coming week. Only a few Vineyarders will see it hovering close to the western horizon right after sunset on Monday night.

Planets Mercury and Mars are nearby and they look like “stars.” Mercury is the brighter of the two and right under the moon. Mars is even closer to the horizon and a significant challenge to spot. All three are in between the two zodiacal constellation Pisces and Aquarius.

More Vineyarders will see the crescent moon on Tuesday night when it is considerably higher above the horizon and above Mars and Mercury.

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Late tonight, before midnight, the gibbous moon rises in the east. The moon is in the zodiacal constellation Virgo, a constellation we more often associate with spring and summer. That bright star near the moon is Spica. Spica is the main star in that constellation and it is one of the brightest in that area of the sky. Wait a little later and an even brighter celestial object appears above the horizon. It is the bright planet Saturn.

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