Moon Venus

December 27, 2011 by staff 

Moon VenusMoon Venus, Looking for some post-Christmas celestial wonder? Then look up tonight starting just before sunset, because the moon and Venus are putting on a show to the west.

“The action begins shortly before sunset, around 4:30 pm to 5 p.m., just as the sky is assuming its evening hue,” according to NASA Science News,

“This is a wonderful time to look; there are very few sights in the heavens as splendid as Venus and the Moon gathered close and surrounded by twilight blue,” writes NASA expert Tony Phillips.

Venus will glisten in the deepening twilight, just to the left of an “exquisitely slender” crescent moon, he said.

But stick with the show for a bit longer, because the beauty of the moon brightens, thanks to something called “Earthshine,” or “the Da Vinci glow.”

Here’s how Phillips describes it:

“As the sky fades to black, a ghostly image of the full Moon materializes within the horns of the lunar crescent. This is caused by Earthshine, a delicate veil of sunlight reflected from our own blue planet onto the dusty-dark lunar terrain.

“Also known as “the Da Vinci glow,” after Leonardo da Vinci who first understood it 500 years ago, Earthshine pushes the beauty of the conjunction over the top.”

While you’re at it, look for Jupiter: the third bright object in the night sky.

We break here for a weather report, since this is Michigan in December, after all.

Viewing conditions should be favorable, with a mostly sunny day, and skies turning only partly cloudy and temperatures at 38 degrees by 6 p.m. in West Michigan, the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids was predicting this morning. Check for updated forecasts here: northern Michigan, the UP, and Eastern Michigan.

One more tip from NASA: None of this viewing requires a telescope.

But if you have one, here’s what else you can see: the clouds and moons of Jupiter and mountains and craters on the Moon.

“Rarely can so much amateur astronomy be done with so little effort,” Phillips concludes.

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