Planetary Tango

By:  The Unknown Astronomer

When naturalists look to the sky, it’s usually to spot birds.

For at least the next few evenings, though, I encourage you to look beyond the birds to watch a beautiful celestial event unfold.

If you look low in the southwest at dusk tonight you will see two bright planets:  Venus, blazing just above the handle of the “teapot” star group (sinking spout-first into the horizon) in the constellation Sagittarius; and Jupiter, a little higher than Venus and a bit less brilliant.

Over the next few days, Venus will creep closer and closer to Jupiter, joined in the chase by a very low, razor-thin crescent moon on 11/29.  On the following evening the two planets will be a mere 2 degrees apart and the moon will have closed to within a few degrees of the pair.  By 12/1, moon, Venus, and Jupiter will be at their closest to one another, forming a lovely, compact trio that should fit within many binocular fields.  Good binoculars held steady, or a small telescope, will also show you something unusual about the appearance of the planet Venus itself.  What do you see? 

Try to get out on subsequent evenings and watch as Venus s-l-o-w-l-y overtakes Jupiter, and the waxing moon leapfrogs across the sky, leaving both planets behind.

Are the moon and planets really performing this sweet celestial dance?  What is  unusual about Venus’s appearance?  Post the answer(s) if you know; otherwise, keep one eye on the sky and one eye out for the next appearance of the Unknown Astronomer.

Unknown Astronomer
Unknown Astronomer

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