This Thing Called Courage

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Celestial Event Monday Night

Venus and Jupiter to form triangle with moon
Celestial bodies reach closest point Monday
By Alan M. MacRobert, Globe Correspondent November 29, 2008
Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest planets, have been marching toward each other for more than a month in the southwestern sky at dusk. As they've drawn closer together, the sight has been catching more people's eyes, and now the show is reaching its climax.
This evening, weather permitting, you will see Venus and Jupiter blazing about a finger's width apart at arm's length. Look early enough and, far to their lower right, you can find the crescent moon just above the horizon.
Tomorrow evening, the two planets will be slightly closer together, and the moon will be hanging higher and nearer them.
Monday night brings the peak of the show. The two planets will remain as close as ever, and the moon will form a compact, extraordinary triangle with them.
Then on subsequent evenings, things fall apart. The moon will move farther off to the upper left, and Jupiter starts pulling away to Venus's right.
Although the three objects look close together, looks are deceiving. The moon is 252,000 miles away. Venus is currently 370 times farther than the moon, at 94 million miles. And Jupiter, at 540 million miles, is nearly six times as far away as 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 has been traveling through space before it hits your eye.Alan M. MacRobert is a senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine in Cambridge (SkyandTelescope.com).

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