Venus, Mars and the Moon Expected to Meet Up in Rare Cosmic Display on Friday

Just after sunset on Friday evening there will be a close grouping of the moon and the planets Venus and Mars. (PHOTO CREDIT: Starry Night Software)
Just after sunset on Friday evening there will be a close grouping of the moon and the planets Venus and Mars. (PHOTO CREDIT: Starry Night Software)

Mars, Venus and the moon will meet up in a particularly beautiful cosmic display starting Friday.

If you’ve been watching the evening twilight sky over the past few weeks, you will have seen the brilliant planet Venus gradually moving away from the sun, setting slightly later every evening. At the same time, the planet Mars has been gradually moving downward toward the sun, setting slightly earlier every evening.

On Friday, the moon, moving much faster than either of the planets, will pass by them, so three hands on the celestial clock will almost coincide. The three cosmic bodies will form a triangle only 2 degrees across, small enough to fit into a low-power telescope’s field of view. Mars and Venus were also closely paired in the night sky Thursday.

The two planets will pass close to each other on Saturday, but that close encounter will happen in the daylight sky, shielding the meeting from view. The best time to see the two bodies will be the evening before, on Friday.

Currently, both Venus and Mars are on the far side of the sun, so their disks are both very small. Venus is only 12 arc seconds in diameter, and Mars is even smaller, at less than 5 arc seconds. These planets are comparable in size to very small craters on the moon. The lunar surface should be partially lit up by earthlight, sunlight reflected off the planet Earth.

Close groupings like these are wonderful subjects for photography. Zoom your lens to maximum magnification, and try to frame the cosmic bodies with interesting foreground objects. If your camera has automatic exposure, your pictures may come out overexposed, so you may want reduce the exposure to get a more pleasing result.

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SOURCE: CBS News, Space.com, Geoff Gaherty

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