What is This Bright Star Near the Moon Tonight?
If you look up tonight, you may notice a very bright star close to the moon. But what is this?
It’s actually a planet. Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all known to appear close to the moon at times.
If you’re looking for a celestial treat, there’s a good chance you’ll spot Venus near the moon tonight (June 26). The two bright objects will appear about an equal distance apart in the night sky as they glimmer high above the horizon at sunrise.
The dazzling planet Venus shines at a staggering magnitude -3.9 and is 93-percent-lit. It’s the second-brightest of all our planetary neighbors and the fourth brightest star in the night sky, behind the sun, Jupiter and Saturn.
Its surface is a reddish-orange color and it’s peppered with mountains, valleys and tens of thousands of volcanoes. Its harsh, rocky atmosphere is made of carbon dioxide and it has a thick, toxic cloud cover that traps heat.
The planet’s surface temperatures are hot enough to melt lead, and its crushing air pressure is nearly 90 times that of Earth – making it a hostile environment for any kind of life. Even microorganisms can’t live in its dense atmosphere.
Saturn is one of the brightest planets in the night sky, and it’s known for its gorgeous rings. The gas giant boasts 63 confirmed moons and has another 20 that are awaiting confirmation and naming.
Among them is Titan, the planet’s largest and most active moon. It’s surrounded by an incredible atmosphere of nitrogen and hydrocarbons.
The rings are made of billions of water ice particles, and some contain trace amounts of rocky material. They are some of the most beautiful in the Solar System.
They’re mostly visible to the naked eye, but if you’ve got a telescope this is the time to really see them up close. The ring particles reflect the sunlight, and for a few days around this year’s opposition (January 23-February 3), they’ll be especially luminous.
Mars isn’t usually a star of note in the night sky, but this week it’s coming close to Earth. This is known as opposition, and it occurs about every 26 months.
Mars comes closest to Earth during this time, and is often visible as a bright red sphere in the skies. Its presence has been a source of much speculation about the nature of Mars’ environment.
The Red Planet, which orbits outside Earth’s own, is the only planet whose solid surface and atmospheric phenomena can be observed in telescopes from our home world.
On Wednesday, December 7, a rare astronomical event known as an occultation will occur. People in a large fraction of the United States will see the moon pass in front of Mars.
The waxing crescent moon will be close to Jupiter tonight, making for a spectacular conjunction. The astronomical objects will be separated by just 1.2 degrees, so it’s easy to see with the naked eye or with binoculars.
Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System, is one of the most interesting to astronomers because it has a vast number of moons. Four of its most prominent Galilean satellites are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
While a few of the moons orbit at different distances from Jupiter, all four are in a roughly circular, 1:2:4 orbital resonance with the planet. Its largest moon, Ganymede, is larger than the planet Mercury and three-fourths the size of Mars.
Jupiter also features a faint planetary ring system, and a magnetic tail that extends more than 800 million kilometers (5.3 astronomical units) behind the planet. The ring system is made of dust rather than ice as with Saturn’s rings, and it is likely that the planet’s main ring is composed of ejected material from its moons Adrastea and Metis.