Science

The new moon meets Saturn and Venus

It is new moon tomorrow. The next few evenings will be devoid of moonlight, making them prime time for stargazing. While there are relatively few hours of darkness at this time of year there is still lots to enjoy for the local fraternity of astronomy fans.

The highlight of this week undoubtedly occurs on Monday (January 23). After sunset there will be a brief opportunity to spot the Moon, Venus and Saturn in close proximity. It will be somewhat challenging to witness this event because all three objects set within 90 minutes of sunset. To have the best chance of success, you need to find a site with an unobstructed view to the West. While all three objects should be visible to the unaided eye when the sky is dark, a pair of binoculars will help you find them earlier during bright twilight.

In Dunedin, the sun sets at 9.21pm on Monday, by which time you should be at your chosen observing location. The moon is, by far, the brightest of our three targets so try to find that first. At sunset the moon will be 12 degrees above the horizon? that’s roughly the same angle as that subtended by your fist when held at arm’s length. Our closest celestial neighbor will be just over 3% illuminated. The thin lunar waxing crescent should be a fine sight in the slowly darkening sky.

Once you find the moon, it should be easy to locate Venus. The second planet from the sun will be less than three degrees below and to the right of the lunar crescent. Saturn is the dimmest of the trio and will be less than a moon diameter below and to the left of Venus. If you are using a pair of binoculars all three objects should be visible in the same field of view which should be a remarkable sight. Better yet, if you have a small telescope you should be able to see both Venus and Saturn at the same time. Photographers should certainly try to capture this spectacular event.

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