Friday, August 17 , 2018, 12:40 pm | A Few Clouds 76º

 
 
 
 

Dennis Mammana: Venus, Mars Provide a Binocular Treat

View the moon, Venus and Mars at dusk this week. Click to view larger
View the moon, Venus and Mars at dusk this week. (Creators.com illustration)

If you’re like me, you’ve been marveling at the brilliant star now appearing in the western sky at dusk. You may also have noticed that it seems to be closing in on another fainter star just above it.

Well, if they were truly stars, I’d be worried. But they’re not; they’re planets.

The lower of the two is Venus, the most brilliant planet of our solar system, and the upper (and much fainter) is the red planet Mars.

Mars and Venus appear to be drifting closer because they, along with our Earth, orbit the sun, and our constantly changing viewpoint makes them appear to drift against the more distant and fixed stars.

Early next week, another solar system body will enter the scene: the moon. Since our celestial neighbor orbits the Earth only once a month, we can detect its movement quite easily.

Think about it this way: The moon makes its 360-degree journey around our planet in just about one month — or, to keep the arithmetic simple, about 30 days. To do so, it must move through the sky about 12 degrees per day, and anyone who goes outside on two consecutive evenings can certainly see this change in position.

What’s more, to make this journey, the moon must move one-half degree per day; that’s equivalent to its apparent diameter in the sky. So if you’re really perceptive, you might even notice this as the moon drifts by other more distant celestial bodies.

If you have a clear sky and a very low horizon to the west, you might get your first glimpse of the superthin crescent moon below Venus (and quite close to the horizon) shortly after sunset on Jan. 29. By the next night, however, the moon will have drifted eastward along its orbit, and you’ll see it as a slightly thicker crescent a bit closer to Venus.

But it’s the night of Jan. 31 that I’m looking forward to because at dusk, the crescent moon will form a tight triangle with Venus and Mars.

Of course, this is all purely an illusion — these bodies are really millions of mile apart. But it sure results in a pretty view. In fact, if you wish to see something even prettier, aim binoculars at the trio and you’ll see all three in the same field of view.

Wow!

You might even like to capture the scene in a photograph. You won’t need fancy equipment, but a zoom lens and tripod will definitely help.

This week the trio appears low enough in the sky at dusk for you to frame the scene with a foreground subject, like a dramatic tree, a building, a sculpture or a person.

If you shoot around 30 to 40 minutes after sunset, you can probably trust your camera’s automatic settings. If not, try setting your camera to ISO 100 or 200 and shooting at about 1/3 of a second at f-stop 8. You’ll need to adjust settings as you go, however, since the sky light changes rapidly at dusk. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Enjoy the sky show, and please email me if you get some nice photos. I’d love to share in your success!

Dennis Mammana is an astronomy writer, author, lecturer and photographer working from under the clear dark skies of the Anza-Borrego Desert in the San Diego County backcountry. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @dennismammana. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >