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Go young moon hunting this week

Tonight – February 27, 2017 – look for the very slender young moon below Venus at dusk. It’ll set shortly after the sun. Then, after darkness falls, look for the planet Mars above Venus. If you miss them on February 27, try again on February 28. Day by day, the moon will move farther east of the setting sun, to appear higher in the west after the sun goes down.

But why stop there? Try catching the zodiacal light around 80 to 120 minutes after sunset. It appears as a hazy pyramid of light in the west, for an hour or so after true darkness falls. Of course, you need a dark location to see it.

Maureen Allen in Yankeetown, Florida caught Venus (brightest), Mars (above left) and the zodical light (big hazy light pyramid!) on Sunday evening, February 26, 2017. The little cluster at the top of the pyramid is the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. Maureen wrote: “If you look closely, there are also two small iridium flares just below Mars.”

If you have binoculars or a low-powered telescope – and that dark sky – it’ll also be possible to see the planet Uranus in the same field of view as Mars. The Mars-Uranus conjunction comes on February 27 at 08:00 UTC.

Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona caught the Mars-Uranus conjunction last night (February 26). Mars is the brighter one on the right; Uranus is fainter and just to Mars’ left. Eliot wrote: “The conjunction of Mars and Uranus. This is a stack of 85 1.6 second images captured with a Nikon D500 camera and a 180 mm F2.8 lens stopped to F3.2 ISO 1600 on an ioptron motor mount. “

Bright starlike object in the west after sunset is Venus. Mars is above Venus. Uranus and Mars are in the same binocular field on February 27, 2017.

On the average, the moon moves some 13o eastward per day in front of the backdrop stars of the zodiac. Meanwhile, as seen from Earth, the sun appears to move one degree eastward per day along the ecliptic. In other words, the moon moves an average 12o east of the sun daily. For reference, the angular diameter of the sun and moon span about one-half degree of sky. This movement of the moon on our sky’s dome is, of course, due to the moon’s motion in orbit around Earth.

The February 2017 new moon happened on February 26 at 14:58 Universal Time. For us in the United States, that translated to February 26 at 9:58 a.m. EST, 8:58 a.m. CST, 7:58 a.m. MST and 6:58 a.m. PST. The February 26 new moon passed in front of the sun to stage an annular solar eclipse as seen from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere.

So, after sunset on February 27, the moon will be well over one day old for us in the Americas.

At comparable latitudes in the world’s Eastern Hemisphere – Europe, Africa and Asia – the February 27 young moon will exhibit a thinner crescent hovering closer to the horizon. Click here to find out the time of moonset in your sky.

Given an unobstructed horizon in the direction of sunset, and a clear sky, the thin waxing crescent moon will appear low in the sky and close to the horizon around one hour (or sooner) after sunset on February 27. Because the view is sometimes murky near the horizon, binoculars might come in handy for seeking the February 27 young moon near the sunset horizon.

If you could see Venus through a telescope now, you’d find it in a crescent phase. That’s because Venus will pass between the Earth and sun on March 25, and its lighted half – or day side – is facing mostly away from us now. Composite image by Patrick Prokop in Savannah, Georgia.

Bottom line: Given an unobstructed horizon in the direction of sunset, and a clear sky, the thin waxing crescent moon should appear low in the sky and close to the horizon around one hour (or less) after sunset on February 27, 2017.

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Zodiacal light: Everything you need to know

Bruce McClure