For those of you who are up with the dawn on Monday December 7th, raise your blurry eyes to the southeast sky. If it’s clear, you will be treated to a very close alignment between the waning crescent moon and the brilliant planet Venus. The thin lunar crescent will be arcing toward the southeastern horizon and Venus will shine close by, in about the seven o’clock position. As dawn strengthens, the moon will inch closer to Venus until, together, they will almost look like a celestial diamond ring.
The sun rises about 6:51am PST, but for those with binoculars, small telescopes or truly exceptional eyesight, you will be able to see the moon pass in front of (or occult) Venus at approximately 7:52am PST. Since this event occurs an hour after sunrise, it will be difficult to find and see it without visual aid.
If you do try to observe this occultation with binoculars or a telescope, be very careful not to point your equipment directly at the rising sun. You could damage your eyes by doing so. Since the moon and Venus will be well to the west of the sun, you should have no problem scanning for them without encountering the blinding sun.
When the moon passes in front of a star, the star winks out immediately since stars are mere points of light, due to their immense distance from us. However, Venus will take almost a full minute to disappear behind the moon’s visible crescent.
Venus will re-emerge from behind the moon about 1 hour, 42 minutes later, at approximately 9:37am PST, taking almost a minute to fully reappear.
For those of you with binoculars or telescopes, there will also be a faint comet near the moon and Venus that you can find and observe in the pre-dawn darkness.
Please see this excellent Sky & Telescope article about the occultation and nearby comet for additional details and observation tips. http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/moon-flys-by-catalina-occults-venus-on-dec-7th120220150212/
We’re fortunate that we don’t live under highly polluted skies that would hinder our view of the starry heavens. And for this event, even light pollution can’t interfere with our enjoyment of it – only clouds can!
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