Close Approach of the Moon, Venus and Neptune
This week, observers in different parts of the world can witness the close approach of the moon, Venus and Neptune in the western sky after dusk. Here are observing tips.
Venus is definitely the queen of the night this winter. The planet will be visible in the western evening sky until spring. This week, Venus will shine at a brilliant magnitude -4.1, and will be your guide to seeing the dimmest and remote planet of our Solar system – Neptune.
On Tuesday evening, January 28, the moon will pass to the left (or celestial south) of Venus. Both the moon and Venus (viewed through your telescope) will be only partially illuminated because the Sun sits west of them both – but Venus will show a more fully-lit disk because it is farther away from Earth than the Sun is.
At the same evening, Venus and Neptune will sit about one finger’s width apart – so you’ll need to zoom out to a low magnification to keep both of them visible through your telescope. Venus will jump above a golden star named Phi Aquarii, putting the star in the middle. Venus’ brilliance will all but overwhelm dim Neptune – so you may need to try putting Venus just beyond your eyepiece’s round field of view and looking for the dim, blue dot of Neptune. Since Venus is much brighter than Neptune, it might be hard to see the remote planet in Venus’ glare even with telescopes.
Don’t mistake Phi Aquarii for Neptune. Phi Aquarii is brighter than Neptune and can be seen with the naked eye on a dark clear night. Another tip: planet Neptune won’t flicker or twinkle much at all - but the stars will. Remember that most telescopes flip and/or invert the view.
Venus and Neptune will set in the west at about 8:30 pm local time. Try to catch Neptune right after dark, when it is highest in the sky – and you will be viewing through less of Earth’s distorting atmosphere. Neptune will remain near Phi Aquarii after Venus has moved off.
Check whether the celestial event is visible in your area and find out the best time for observation in the stargazing app Star Walk 2.
Clear skies and happy hunting!