Start Your Day with a Full House – Three Planets and a Pair of Crescents

The dawn sky’s where it’s happening. With Saturn swiftly sinking westward at dusk, bright planets have become scarce in the evening hours. But if you get up early and look east, you’ll discover where the party is. Venus, Mars and now Jupiter have the dance floor.

Tale of two crescents. A montage of the thick crescent Moon and crescent Venus photographed earlier this month. Credit: Tom Ruen

What’s more, the sky gods have seen fit to roll a thin crescent Moon alongside Venus Thursday morning (Sept. 10). This lovely twinning of crescents is best seen about 75 minutes to an hour before sunrise. All you need is a pair of 10x binoculars to see the peewee Venusian version. Its waning crescent phase closely mimics the Moon’s.

From the U.S., the separation between the two will vary from 3° for the East Coast to 4.5° for the West. European and African skywatchers will witness the actual conjunction with the Moon gliding 2.5° north of the planet.

Venus is very bright, making it easy to see in the daytime if you know where to look. Try using the thin Moon soon after sunrise (7:30 a.m. local time shown here) to spot Venus. Aim and focus your binoculars on the Moon, then glide up and to the right to find Venus. If you succeed, lower the binoculars and see if you can spot it without optical aid. Source: Stellarium

Much fainter Mars, checking in at magnitude +1.8, lies 6° to the left or east of the Moon. It thrills me to see Mars begin a new apparition with its return to the morning sky. Next year, the Red Planet reaches opposition on May 22 in the constellation Scorpius, when it will be brighter than Sirius and more than 18 arc seconds across, its biggest and closest since 2005.

Remember Jupiter? We lost it in the solar glare more than a month ago, but if you can find a location with a nice, open eastern horizon, you can welcome the ever-jovial planet back Thursday. Bring binoculars just in case! Jove’s only a few degrees high in moderately-bright twilight.

The bright sunlit crescent contrasts with the darker lighting of twice-reflected light contributed by own planet. Credit: Bob King

When you look at the Moon Thursday, most of it will be illuminated not by sunlight but by Earth-light called earthshine. This smoky, dark glow results from sunlight bouncing off the globe into space to softly light the otherwise shadowed portion of the Moon. The effect is most pleasing to the eye and remarkable in binoculars, which reveal lunar seas and even larger craters shrouded in blue-dark. Don’t miss it!

Bob King

I'm a long-time amateur astronomer and member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). My observing passions include everything from auroras to Z Cam stars. I also write a daily astronomy blog called Astro Bob. My new book, "Wonders of the Night Sky You Must See Before You Die", a bucket list of essential sky sights, will publish in April. It's currently available for pre-order at Amazon and BN.

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