It’s been a relatively quiet start to 2020 as far as skywatching goes. Sure, we’ve had some full Moons and a few other treats here and there, but nothing particularly awesome… until tonight, that is. Thursday evening will give residents of the Northern Hemisphere a chance to spot a lovely sight in the sky: Venus shining brightly alongside a crescent moon.
Venus, which is often easily spotted thanks to its bold glow, will sit near the Moon in the southwest sky. If you’re fortunate to have clear skies overhead, you’ll have a great chance at spotting the pair without the help of a telescope or even binoculars.
Venus is unique in its relationship with Earth. The planet comes closer to Earth than any other, but due to our respective orbits around the Sun, that distance varies wildly over time. However, because Venus has such a bright surface reflection, it offers us many opportunities to spot it in the night sky, and tonight will be one of those times. What’s special about where Venus currently is, is that it’s nearing its most distant point from the Sun, from Earth’s perspective, and that’s prime time for observing the planet from Earth.
Its brightness, combined with its current position in orbit around the Sun puts it at a particularly ideal place to be spotted from Earth for an extended period of time in the evening. In late March, Venus will be visible for the longest period of time after sunset, but tonight will offer us the opportunity to see the planet glowing brightly near the Moon, and that’s an unmissable combo.
There isn’t anything particularly special about the Moon’s position right now, or its phase. We were treated to a new Moon on February 23rd, and the crescent shape we’ll see tonight is well short of the first quarter brightness we’ll observe in early March. The next full Moon won’t take place until March 9th. On March 24th, a similar meeting between Venus and the Moon will take place in the sky, so if you’re met with cloudy skies tonight, don’t fret.
So, if you’ve been craving a reason to gaze skyward, tonight will offer you that reason. Again, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere and have clear skies this evening, simply look toward the southwest and the two brightest objects in the sky will be Venus and the Moon. Get out there and enjoy it!