Way..... Out there !

Way..... Out there !
Deepest, most colorful Hubble image yet of our universe. Click for info.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sky Lights

    For the past few evenings, anyone who looked into the sky in the southwest saw a wonderful astronomical sight: the brilliant planets Venus and Jupiter close together and out-shining anything in the sky. Except for the crescent moon, of course, which joined the two planets Monday night.  If you missed that, don't despair, however. The two planets will remain close together for a while, according to Sky and Telescope magazine. And then Venus and the Moon will have a return engagement.

Although the three objects look close together, the appearance is deceiving. The Moon is only 252,000 miles away, less far than you may have driven a car in your lifetime. Right now Venus is 370 times farther away, at 94 million miles. And Jupiter, at 540 million miles, is nearly six times farther than Venus.

To put it another way: the Moon is currently 1.4 light-seconds distant, Venus is 8.4 light-minutes distant, and Jupiter is 42 light-minutes away. That's how long the light from each of them has been traveling through space before it hits your eye. Moreover, although Jupiter looks like a tiny dot, it's actually 40 times wider than the Moon.

If the sky is cloudy for this celestial gathering, don't despair. Venus and the crescent Moon will have another spectacular twilight pairing (though without Jupiter) on December 31st, New Year's Eve!

    You might also check out the Washington Post's Sky Watch column by Blaine P. Friedlander, jr., which has more on upcoming astronomical delights in the sky and in the area. And keep an eye on the evening sky, especially toward the southwest; when the clouds part, there's beauty up there and it's all yours!

John L.

1 comment:

Scoop said...

Thanks! It's an amazing display. Can't wait till New Year's Eve.