Throughout the year there are all sorts of nighttime and even daytime happenings in the sky that unlike weather are quite predictable.
Presently, those of you who are up early have a wonderful opportunity to see Venus, Mars, and Jupiter in the southeastern pre-dawn sky. Venus is the brightest of these objects, with Jupiter coming in second, and a fainter Mars between the two. Sky and Telescope is a great resource for professional and amateur astronomers. The image below, courtesy of Sky and Telescope, shows where the moon, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter will be Monday morning.
While Venus is often visible in the morning or evening sky throughout the year, Monday presents a unique opportunity to see the moon and Venus inter-playing with each other. What’s even cooler is there is going to be a lunar occultation of Venus and the moon. What is a lunar occultation? This is when the moon passes in front of a celestial object like a star or in Monday’s case a planet, like Venus.
Venus is so bright, that it will be possible to see it during the day even with the naked eye, but if you can get a pair of binoculars it will be easier. We see both the moon and Venus because they reflect the sun’s light falling on them. The moon appears bright, but in actuality is only reflecting about 14 percent of the sunlight hitting it. Venus, surrounded in dense clouds is able to reflect a whopping 67 percent of the sunlight, and because it is closer to the sun than the moon, the sunlight hitting Venus is more intense than the moon. If you do get a chance to see this event Monday, you may notice Venus is brighter. As a side note, clouds may be one of the bigger wildcards in climate modeling with net cooling or net warming both plausible. Some researchers even study Venus in order to understand the impact in changing cloud cover to our planet.
Predawn, Monday, December 7
The easiest viewing Monday will be in the pre-dawn sky. Look southeast and you will see the moon, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. As the sun rises, Venus will become increasingly difficult to see. The occultation begins during the noon hour and continues until just before 2 p.m. Venus will become hidden behind the moon during this time and then reappear. The weather looks good, not perfect. There will be some clouds around, but I think enough holes to warrant looking.
The planets will be visible all week, but the occultation is Monday.
There is also a comet in the morning sky this week, but you’ll need to use a telescope to see it clearly. There was talk this would become brighter and visible to the naked eye, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. The image below, courtesy Sky and Telescope, gives you an idea where to look for the comet.
The Geminids Meteor Shower
This coming Sunday and Monday nights will bring the peak of one of the best meteor showers of the year. If the weather cooperates, you can see a meteor a minute during the peak. I’ll have more detailed update on this in the coming days.
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