2020, February: Evening Star Venus, Mercury, and Moon

2020, January 19: Venus is visible in the southwest about 40 minutes after sunset. The planet is now setting over 3 hours after sunset.

Brilliant Venus sparkles in the western sky after sunset.  It is so bright that Earth’s neighbor is often mistaken for a passing airplane.  Find Venus throughout February during the early evening hours.

The speedy planet Mercury pops into the evening sky after sunset for its best appearance of 2020.  As Mercury appears higher in the sky, it dims.  Find a clear horizon in the west-southwest and begin looking at about 45 minutes after sunset. It appears as a bright star.  Try to catch it early in its appearance and look for it each evening as it appears higher in the sky, but it is dimmer nearly every evening.  First attempt to look for it with a binocular; then look without optical help.

By mid-month, you’ll need a binocular to find it in the sky, as it much dimmer.

Venus appears high above Mercury.

The moon joins Venus late in the month.  On February 25, find a clear western horizon about 1 hour after sunset.  Each evening the moon is higher in the sky than the previous evening.

The best evening is on February 27, when the moon and Venus seem to appear in a scene of an artist.  Both are nearly at the same altitude above the horizon.  The moon is about 7° to the left of Venus.

You can capture “earthshine” on the night portion of the moon with a tripod-mounted camera.  Exposures ranging from 1 to 10 seconds reveal that the night is gently illuminated by sunlight reflected from Earth.

Here are more details about the moon’s appearance:

  • February 24: The moon returns to the evening sky. Thirty minutes after sunset, the moon (1.4 days past New, 2% illuminated) is nearly 6° up in the west-southwest. It is over 30° below brilliant Venus (m = −4.3).
  • February 25: In the evening sky, one hour after sunset, the moon (2.4d, 5%), over 10° in altitude in the west-southwest, is nearly 20° below Venus.
  • February 26: The moon is at apogee at 5:34 a.m. CST, 252,449 miles away. One hour after sunset, the moon (3.4d, 10%) is over 20° in altitude in the west-southwest. The lunar crescent is about 10° below brilliant Venus.
  • February 27:  In the evening, Venus and the moon (4.4d, 16%) are in a classic artist’s scene. Brilliant Venus is 6.7° to the right of the lunar crescent. Photograph the pair with a tripod-mounted camera. Vary exposures from 1-10 seconds to capture earthshine on the night portion of the moon.
  • February 28:  One hour after sunset, the waxing crescent moon (5.4d, 24%) is over 40° in altitude above the west-southwest horizon. It is nearly 15° to the upper left of brilliant Venus.
  • February 29: Happy Leap Day! In the evening, about one hour after sunset, the thick crescent moon (6.4d, 33%) is over 50° up in the southwest. Brilliant Venus is over 30° up in the west-southwest.

Here are my daily notes for February:

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Happy Observing!

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