Mars, Venus And The Crescent Moon Will Light Up The Sky Tonight

You don’t really need a star chart for this one. Just look up at the sky at dusk, in a west-southwesterly direction, and you’ll see Venus, radiant and silver. And if you look closely, a little above, you’ll see Mars – easily identifiable by that dull, red, thuggish glow – the planet of war. This conjunction will be highlighted by the new crescent moon, and this evening, February 20th, it will all be bunched together with the Venus-Mars duo. Tomorrow, February 21st, will also be eventful, with the moon rising a little higher in the sky than the two.

This is the closest the two planets have appeared in the night sky since 2008, and a similar conjuncture will not happen again until 2017. The waxing crescent moon is also on the very edge of visibility. This is also a good night to look for earthshine, the twice-reflected sunlight that dimly reveals the full circle of the moon. The terminator is the line separating the lighted and dark (or almost dark) sections of the moon’s disc. For the reasons explained here, it’s easier for skywatchers in North America – despite the Arctic cold – to find the new moon than for those in Europe, Asia or the Southern Hemisphere.

Comet Lovejoy also continues to be visible, high in the sky at early evening, through binoculars and telescopes. Unpredictable like all comets, it is dimming much less rapidly than expected and continues to shine a farewell to the inner solar system.

For those just getting started, Sky and Telescope magazine has an excellent guide for beginners. You can download printable night sky maps here. And of course, there’s an app for it. For iPads, iPhones and tablets, there are a host of applications that let you just point your device at the night sky to show you what stars and constellations you are seeing (or would see, if it’s a cloudy night) in that sector.