Venus and the Moon Will "Snuggle Up" on Feb. 27
by Joe Rao on
To date it has been a superb winter for viewing the queen of the planets, Venus. February marks the pinnacle of its evening visibility as it stands like a sequined showgirl nearly halfway up in the western sky at sunset. Currently shining at its greatest brilliance for this apparition, this dazzling evening star appears as a distinct crescent shape in small telescopes, which is growing progressively larger in size as it approaches our Earth.
And be sure to get out your calendar and put a big circle around Friday, February 27, 2009, for that evening a lovely crescent Moon will appear to snuggle up close to Venus, particularly for skywatchers across the Western Hemisphere. It will make for an eye-catching scene as the two brightest sky objects of the night dominate the early evening scene for about three hours after sundown; even those who do not normally look up will likely have their attention drawn to this dynamic duo during their normal commute home from work or school. What will make this array especially attractive is the fact that it will look almost three-dimensional; the Moon will look almost like an eerily illuminated blue and yellow Christmas ball hovering next to the brilliant-white diamond that is Venus.
Sadly, this will be the last in the current series of evening get-togethers between the Moon and Venus, for during March Venus will slide rapidly down into the sunset glow and by month's end will disappear from our evening sky until the spring of 2010.
But again . . . Friday night, February 27 will be the night when the Americas will be greeted with one of the most beautiful Venus-crescent Moon conjunctions possible. The pairing will persist from before sunset on into the depths of darkness. The time when Moon and planet will appear closest will be around 8:30 p.m. Eastern time (7:30 p.m. Central, 6:30 p.m. Mountain, and 5:30 p.m. Pacific). Venus will appear to hover approximately 1.5-degrees above and to the right of the 10-percent illuminated Moon (the Moon itself appears one-half degree in diameter). For cities situated in the Mountain time zone, the time of closest approach will come during evening twilight, while for those in the Pacific time zone it takes place around, or just prior to sunset.
From other places around the world, the pairing will appear a bit different primarily because the Moon appears to move much more rapidly against the background stars than Venus, and also because of the effect of parallax: different viewing angles from different points on our planet.
From Europe, for instance, Venus will appear to hover majestically about 4-degrees directly above the Moon at sunset. South Americans will see the Moon with Venus to its right; the pair low in the west-northwest at dusk and appearing to set side-by-side. From Australia, the Moon will be positioned far to the lower left of Venus on the evening of Feb. 27 and a somewhat similar distance to its upper right the following evening.
Finally, if you're watching with some friends, here's a trivia question you might want to pose to them: Of the two which do they believe is the brighter: Venus now at its peak brilliance or the three-day old Moon? The almanacs say that the Moon is 8.5 times (2.3 magnitudes) brighter, but because its light is not concentrated into a point like Venus, they may have a difficult time believing this!