Bright Skywatching Configuration

Bright Sky Watching Configuration

 Venus, the crescent moon, and the star Antares make a bright sky watching configuration during the predawn hours of late January 2011.  Venus entered the morning sky during November, and it has put on a bright display as it appeared near the moon, planets and bright stars during early mornings.

The chart above shows the Venus, the moon, and Antares at 5:45 a.m. on January 29, 2011.  The bright trio appears low in the southeastern sky.  The moon will appear near Venus and Antares on the day before the chart date and the following morning. 

The moon appears near Antares each month as it travels its celestial orbit, but with the addition of Venus, the trio is visually attractive.

Venus is the nearest planetary neighbor outside the earth-moon system.  On this morning it is 77 million miles from Earth.  It is the brightest starlike object in the sky, with only the moon and sun regularly appearing brighter.

Antares is the bright star in Scorpius, marking the celestial scorpion’s heart.  The star is quite unusual.  It is around 600 light years away.  Antares has a distinctive ruddy color, similar to that of the planet Mars.  One interpretation of the star’s name is “the Rival of Mars” because both have nearly the same color and brightness. 

While Mars is nearby and shines by reflected sunlight, Antares is a very large and bright star.  Antares’ color indicates that it about half the sun’s temperature and so to shine as the 16th brightest star, it is about 400 times larger than our sun.  Only Betelgeuse (the bright star at Orion’s shoulder) is larger in our region of the Milky Way.  If the sun were replaced by Antares, the star would extend beyond the orbit of Mars; that is, the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars would be inside  the star!

As the days begin to lengthen again, slowly at first, look for the bright configuration of Venus, the moon, and Mars near the end of January.

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