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The Night’s Brightest Lights

Venus and Jupiter are at their best, and the moon isn’t too shabby, either

As the sun dips toward the horizon, Venus and Jupiter appear high in the west. Venus, the brighter of the two, shines roughly five degrees below Jupiter at week’s end, but that gap is closing fast. They reach their nearest on Tuesday, shining side by side a mere three degrees apart. Visible for almost four hours after sunset, this is the best conjunction of Venus and Jupiter for years to come. After Tuesday, Venus pulls above Jupiter, appearing a little higher each night. Even so, the two remain close together through March.
    If you can see Jupiter and Venus, you may be able to spot Mercury far lower against the horizon in the wake of the setting sun. Nearing the end of this evening apparition, Mercury sets little more than an hour after the sun, and by next weekend it will be lost in the solar glare. While Mercury shines as bright as most any star, you may need binoculars to locate it amid the glow of twilight.
    Juxtaposed from Venus and Jupiter, Mars rises in the east after sunset. The red planet has just come its closest to earth for the year, and shines as bright as any star. It is also just days removed from its solar opposition, so it is visible all night long. You should have no trouble distinguishing its ruddy glow from dimmer, blue-white Regulus a dozen degrees above it.
    Saturn rises in the east around 9pm, trailing a half-dozen degrees behind the slightly dimmer star Spica. Saturday, the waning gibbous moon joins the two, forming an equilateral triangle.
    In the wee hours before dawn Sunday morning, we begin Daylight Saving Time, setting our clocks ahead one hour. While the planets and stars will be oblivious to this time change, it’s unlikely your boss will be should you show up to work an hour late Monday.

As the sun dips toward the horizon, Venus and Jupiter appear high in the west. Venus, the brighter of the two, shines roughly five degrees below Jupiter at week’s end, but that gap is closing fast. They reach their nearest on Tuesday, shining side by side a mere three degrees apart. Visible for almost four hours after sunset, this is the best conjunction of Venus and Jupiter for years to come. After Tuesday, Venus pulls above Jupiter, appearing a little higher each night. Even so, the two remain close together through March.
    If you can see Jupiter and Venus, you may be able to spot Mercury far lower against the horizon in the wake of the setting sun. Nearing the end of this evening apparition, Mercury sets little more than an hour after the sun, and by next weekend it will be lost in the solar glare. While Mercury shines as bright as most any star, you may need binoculars to locate it amid the glow of twilight.
    Juxtaposed from Venus and Jupiter, Mars rises in the east after sunset. The red planet has just come its closest to earth for the year, and shines as bright as any star. It is also just days removed from its solar opposition, so it is visible all night long. You should have no trouble distinguishing its ruddy glow from dimmer, blue-white Regulus a dozen degrees above it.
    Saturn rises in the east around 9pm, trailing a half-dozen degrees behind the slightly dimmer star Spica. Saturday, the waning gibbous moon joins the two, forming an equilateral triangle.
    In the wee hours before dawn Sunday morning, we begin Daylight Saving Time, setting our clocks ahead one hour. While the planets and stars will be oblivious to this time change, it’s unlikely your boss will be should you show up to work an hour late Monday.