Planets putting on a show for the new year

Moon, Venus, Jupiter & Mercury in conjuntion

In case you missed it over the last few nights ( See this, this and this ) the planets Venus, Jupiter and Mercury, along with the Moon, are putting on a fantastic show in the South-East (for us in the Northern Hemisphere) at sunset for the start of the International Year of Astronomy 2009.   So get outside tonight, December 31, 2008 and enjoy the show!

Most impressive, of course, is Venus at Mag -4.27, and nearing it’s maximum elongation (which occurs on January 14th) and maximum apparent magnitude (which occurs between January 30th and February 8th at Mag -4.45).     Venus will pop into visibility almost as soon as the sun sets.  Because of the elongation (tonight it will be 46° 34′ 4″ away from the sun) it will appear about 34° up from the horizon.  Depending on sky conditions, and your eyes, you may be able to pick it out in daylight by using the moon as a guide.

The moon will be a waxing crescent just above Venus, shining at Mag. -9.22.

Jupiter and Mercury will be down close to the horizon, so you’ll only have a few minutes to catch them.  Jupiter will be the brighter of the two at Mag. -1.50, and Mercury will shine at a none-too-shabby -0.78 (brighter than all stars except two; Sol and Sirius).

If you have a telescope handy, you can also catch Uranus and Neptune in the sky close to Venus.

Tavi Greiner has photos from Monday here, here and here.

UPDATE: The sun is getting into the act.  See the prominences here.

A moon, and four planets

If you’re into finding planets, a trio of naked-eye visible planets will bracket the waxing crescent moon tonight  ( December 29, 2008 ).   If you have clear skies tonight it’s definitely worth a trip outside just as the sun sets.

Moon and Four Planets

Moon and Four Planets

I’ve set up Stellarium for about a half-hour after Sunset (click the image for a larger version).   The moon is shown just below center of the picture, with Jupiter and Mercury below and to the right, and Venus and Neptune above and to the left.

Venus will be the easiest to spot, as it is almost Mag -5.   Jupiter ( Mag -1.88)  and Mercury (Mag 0.66)  will be harder to see, both because they are fainter and because they are immersed in the sunset glow.   However, if you have a good view of the western horizon you should have a good chance of seeing both.  Binoculars will enhance the view considerably.

Neptune is next to Venus, but you have no chance of seeing the Mag 7.95 planet of the Sea God unless you are using a scope, and even with a scope it’s going to be tough to spot against the sunset.

Also shown is the asteroid Juno, but buried in the sunset you have almost zero chance of seeing this tiny ( 300km ) object, even with a telescope.