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Star of wonder 

What is the star next to the moon this time of year and why is it so bright?  The light isn’t actually a star, it’s in fact a planet - Venus.

It’s not the flashiest celestial event, and it’s far from the rarest, but the juxtaposition of the crescent moon and Venus tonight will be worth a look.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and you’ve got a clear sky Thursday, look to the southwest and you’ll see a very bright Venus alongside the crescent moon.  With the moon just a thin fingernail, Venus will stand out in the night sky.

Venus — the third-brightest object visible from the Earth, after the sun and moon — is currently appearing as “the evening star.” It is approaching its greatest evening elongation of the year, the point at which, from an Earthly vantage, it appears farthest from the sun.  

When it is on the far side of the Sun, Venus can’t be seen, but as it comes round, getting closer to Earth, it becomes brighter and brighter, reflecting light from the Sun.  As it gets closer to us it is visible in the evening, then when it passes its closest point and moves away again it is visible in the morning.

When the greatest evening elongation is close to the spring equinox, Venus is visible for a maximum time after sunset.

During next month’s crescent moon, a similar display will occur, with Venus reaching maximum elongation on March 24. 

In the latter half of the year, Venus will shift to become “the morning star.”

 

 

 

 

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Updated on January 27th, 2013

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