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.