See the young moon in close proximity to the brilliant planet Venus on December 4! You’ll find them in the western twilight some 30 minutes (or sooner) after sunset. These two worlds burst onto the scene before nightfall because the moon and Venus rank as the brightest and second-brightest luminaries of nighttime, respectively. What’s more Venus is at its brightest around now for this evening apparition.
Be sure to catch the dazzling twosome at dusk or nightfall, for they’ll follow the sun beneath the horizon by early evening.
Both of these worlds shine by reflecting the light of the sun. In this respect, the moon and Venus are totally different from the twinkling stars, which are distant suns that shine by their own light.
Moreover, the moon and Venus display the full range of phases in Earth’s sky, though you need a telescope to observe the phases of Venus.
The best time to observe Venus or the moon through a telescope is at early dusk, before the glare from these bright objects becomes too overwhelming. This evening, Venus’ disk is about 28% illuminated by sunlight and 72% engulfed in the planet’s own shadow. In other words, we’re seeing about 28% of Venus’s day side and 72% of its night side.
Although Venus’ phase is waning (shrinking) in the evening sky right now, the forecast calls for Venus to be at its greatest brilliancy in the evening sky in a few more days.
Yet the moon is waxing and brightening in the evening sky as well, so it’s uncertain whether Venus will look brighter to the eye in the days ahead than it already does tonight. For general reference, we can say that Venus will be shining at its brightest best as the “evening star” over the upcoming week.
Bottom line: Enjoy the great attraction in the western sky after sunset on Wednesday, December 4, 2013. The slender waxing crescent moon and planet Venus – now at its brightest for this evening apparition – will illuminate the early evening hours!