The night after Christmas sky show

Dec 26, 2011 by Dr. Tony Phillips
A Venus-Moon conjunction photographed in Nov. 2011 by Thad V'Soske of Fruita, CO. The "Night After Christmas" conjunction will look about the same. Copyright: T. V'Soske/Cosmotions.com

T'was the Night after Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring ...

...because everyone was outside watching the planets align?

It's true. On Dec. 26th, the night after Christmas, Venus and the slender crescent Moon will gather for a jaw-dropping conjunction in the western sky.

The action begins shortly before sunset. Around 4:30 pm to 5:00 pm local time, just as the sky is assuming its evening hue, Venus will pop into view, glistening bright in the deepening twilight. No more than 6 degrees to the right lies the crescent Moon, exquisitely slender, grinning like the Cheshire cat with his head cocked at humorous attention. This is a wonderful time to look; there are very few sights in the heavens as splendid as Venus and the Moon gathered close and surrounded by twilight blue.

But don't go inside yet, because the view is about to improve. As the sky fades to black, a ghostly image of the materializes within the horns of the lunar crescent. This is caused by Earthshine, a delicate veil of sunlight reflected from our own blue planet onto the dusty-dark lunar terrain. Also known as "the Da Vinci glow," after who first understood it 500 years ago, Earthshine pushes the beauty of the conjunction over the top.

Meanwhile, Jupiter will be looking down on it all from a perch overhead in the constellation Pisces. In ascending order, Jupiter, Venus and the Moon are the three brightest objects in the , able to pierce city lights and even thin clouds. Almost everyone, everywhere will be able to see them.

Although no telescope is required to enjoy the show, if one happens to be under your Christmas tree, take it outside. With a simple triangular sweep, you can see the clouds and moons of Jupiter, mountains and craters on the Moon, and the fat gibbous form of Venus. (Like the , Venus has phases, and at the moment she is 83% illuminated.) Rarely can so much amateur astronomy be done with so little effort.

Some people find the after Christmas to be a bit of a letdown. This year, it's not so bad.”

Explore further: Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Related Stories

Pretty Sky Alert

Feb 27, 2009

Be careful, this sort of thing can cause an accident. On Friday evening, Feb. 27th, the 10% crescent Moon will glide by Venus, forming a gorgeous and mesmerizing pair of lights in the sunset sky.

STAR TRAK for May 2011

May 06, 2011

The closest gathering of four bright planets in decades will be on display low in the eastern sky before dawn during May.

STAR TRAK for May

May 04, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- After sunset each evening in May, look to the west-northwest to see the planet Venus as a beautiful "evening star," the brightest point of light in the sky.

STAR TRAK for November

Nov 03, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Jupiter will be easy to see in the east as night falls in November. The bright planet was at opposition on Oct. 29, so during November it will still be visible almost all night at its maximum ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

13 minutes ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

53 minutes ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

1 hour ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

20 hours ago

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

23 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

CapitalismPrevails
1 / 5 (1) Dec 26, 2011
Will this be a sign for the Muslims?
omatumr
1.8 / 5 (4) Dec 26, 2011
See today's news item on a plasma cloud headed this way

www.volkskrant.nl...de.dhtml

http://translate....de.dhtml
RonPaul1
1 / 5 (1) Dec 26, 2011
The title should be, "The night after Yuletide sky show".
Razzbar
not rated yet Dec 26, 2011
Why Yuletide? Because it is more secular than Christmas? Yuletide is a lesser defined, less known period of time, whereas Christmas is known almost universal as being a specific day. Meanwhile, I'm headed out to enjoy the show!

More news stories

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

A sharp eye on Southern binary stars

Unlike our sun, with its retinue of orbiting planets, many stars in the sky orbit around a second star. These binary stars, with orbital periods ranging from days to centuries, have long been the primary ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Astronaut salary

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Unraveling the 'black ribbon' around lung cancer

It's not uncommon these days to find a colored ribbon representing a disease. A pink ribbon is well known to signify breast cancer. But what color ribbon does one think of with lung cancer?