23Feb2014

Moon, Venus Closest Before Sunrise February 26

Attention all budding sky watchers, grab your telescopes. What you’re about to read might give you an uncontrollable urge to dash outside. The brightest planets in the solar system are on show.

You can see them anytime this month. But, something is special about one of therm. Go out at sunset and look north-west. Jupiter pops out of the twilight even before the sky fades completely black.  This brilliant planet surrounded by evening blue is a spellbinding sight and looks great, as I keep telling you, in a small telescope or binoculars.

 Jupiter is the largest planet and like the other gas giants doesn’t have a solid surface that we can see, just thick poisonous clouds a thousand kilometres deep. Jupiter is currently in the constellation Gemini.

 Now, if you go out before sunrise and look east you’ll see an equally brilliant sight with Venus, the ‘morning star,’ blazing brightly above the horizon. Hang on a few more days and the view improves because Venus and crescent Moon are converging. So close in fact that you can hide them together behind your outstretched palm. 

On February 26 they are only a few degrees apart and a stunning sky sight. These two brilliant beauties will climb over the eastern horizon in the pre-dawn darkness, and will continue to light up the morning twilight till after all stars have been washed from the sky. Sharp sighted people might even see the moon and Venus after sunrise! Hey, grab your Smartphone, hold it steady and see what a pic looks like.

If you miss it don’t sweat, they’ll still be close for a couple of days but moving further apart. The Moon, Venus and Jupiter are the brightest objects in the night sky and together they can shine through urban lights, fog, and even some clouds. They’ll probably defeat the glare from your outside streetlights so carelessly left unshrouded by most councils.

There’s something mesmerizing about stars and planets bunched together in this way and, no, you’re not imagining things when it happens to you.  The phenomenon is based on the anatomy of the human eye.  Your eye is a bit like a digital camera, there’s a lens in front to focus the light, and a photo array behind the lens to capture the image. There’s a tiny patch of tissue near the centre of your retina called the ‘fovea.’

 Whatever you see with the fovea, you see in high definition. The field of view of the fovea is very narrow. Most objects that fit within that narrow cone become enhanced and when they do, presto!  It’s spellbinding astronomy.

Anyway, put this event in your diary. *For our readers in India and Southeast Asia – it’ll be possible to watch this lunar occultation of Venus during the daylight hours on February 26. Where this occultation is visible, Venus will disappear behind the illuminated part of the moon and then will reappear on the dark side. Outside the occultation area, the moon passes either north of south of Venus. No matter where you reside worldwide, however, the waning crescent moon will couple up with the dazzling planet Venus in the early morning hours on Wednesday, February 26. Story and image credit: D.reneke

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