Watch for moon and Jupiter

Tonight – July 8, 2016 – and tomorrow night, look westward, the sunset direction, for the waxing crescent moon in evening twilight. As night falls, a bright planet – Jupiter – will pop into view, close to the moon. They’ll be a beautiful sight as dusk gives way to darkness.

The moon and Jupiter will be close together at nightfall on July 9, too – especially as seen from Australia.

Watch for the waxing crescent moon to be close to the dazzling planet Jupiter for several days, centered on or near July 8. Read more.
The moon appears close to Jupiter after sunset for several days, centered on or near July 8, 2016.

These two worlds aren’t close in space, of course. The moon lies only about 1.3 light-seconds from Earth, while Jupiter lies well over 2,000 times farther away, at nearly 49 light-minutes.

For reference, one light-second = 186,242 miles (299,792 km).

One light-minute = 11,176,944 miles (17,987,547 km).

If Jupiter were at the moon’s distance from Earth, its disk in our sky would appear about 1,600 times larger than the lunar disk. Wow!

In 2013, space artist Ron Miller released a series of images illustrating the sizes of the other planets as they would look from Earth at the moon's distance (about 240,000 miles ). He began with this picture of the moon over Death Valley.  Look below for Miller's representation of Jupiter at the moon's distance. Image via Ron Miller/ The Atlantic.
Illustration of the size of Earth’s moon, seen over Death Valley. It’s by space artist Ron Miller, who, in 2013, released images illustrating the sizes of other planets as they would look from Earth at the moon’s distance (about 240,000 miles; 386,000 km). Look for Miller’s representation of Jupiter at the moon’s distance, below. Image by Ron Miller via The Atlantic.
Here's Miller's representation of Jupiter at the moon's distance (about 240,000 miles ). Image by Ron Miller/ via complete set of images at The Atlantic. See the
Illustration of Jupiter – our solar system’s largest planet – at the moon’s distance (about 240,000 miles; 386,000 km) by Ron Miller. See Miller’s complete set of planets-at-the moon’s distance images at The Atlantic.

There are three other planets in the evening sky right now, two of which are easy to spot – and one that is not.

The two easy ones are Mars and Saturn. They form a noticeable triangle with the bright star Antares. From the Northern Hemisphere, look southward – and from the Southern Hemisphere, look overhead – as darkness falls.

Here’s how to tell Mars from Saturn and Antares. Mars is the brightest of the three. Antares twinkles the most. Mars and Antares are reddish, while Saturn exhibits a golden hue. If you have difficulty discerning these objects’ colors, try using binoculars.

On these July 2016 evenings, look for the planets Mrs and Saturn in the south to southwest sky.
On July 2016 evenings, Mars and Saturn are still in a triangle with Antares, brightest star in Scorpius.

The fourth evening planet – Venus – is not easy to see at present. It’s very low in the west after sunset now and soon follows the sun below the horizon. But Venus is getting farther from the sunset each each now, and many are already reporting seeing it with optical aid, or even with the eye alone.

Click here for photos of Venus in July, 2016 from the EarthSky community.

Venus is the brightest planet. If you’re able to spot it, it might surprise you with its brightness, even amidst such a bright twilight background.

Given crystal-clear skies and an unobstructed horizon, try to spot Venus near the sunset point on the horizon around 30 minutes after sunset.

Binoculars will be helpful! Also, notice that the bright portion of the crescent moon points toward Venus. On these nights when Jupiter is near the moon, a line between this planet and the moon points to Venus, too.

Catching Venus is the haze of evening twilight about 30 minutes after sunset will probably be difficult. Binoculars may help!
Notice that the lighted portion of the crescent moon points toward Venus. Use binoculars to sweep for Venus near the horizon. See July 2016 photos of Venus here.

Night by night, Venus – the brightest planet – will climb away from the sunset glare, while Jupiter – the second-brightest planet – will be sinking towards it. These dazzling two worlds will pass each other, on our sky’s dome, in August!

Their rendezvous will be on August 27, 2016. It’ll be the closest conjunction of two planets for all of 2016.

Bottom line: Use the moon to locate Jupiter on July 8 and 9, 2016.

July 8, 2016

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Bruce McClure

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