Skywatch: Look for planets and the earliest sunsets of the year this week

Skywatch: Look for planets and the earliest sunsets of the year this week
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I mentioned in last week’s Skywatch that Venus was very bright in the sky as it gets closer to it’s “greatest illuminated extent” which means that it’s at its brightest. The planet is expected to reach this milestone late Saturday night which means that when it’s visible early Sunday morning it’ll be extra bright. The moon will pass close to it as we start the week. Below is how you’ll find the pair on Monday morning. Look in the east before sunrise and the two brightest objects in the sky will be our satellite and the planet Venus.

The moon will be very close to Mercury this week as well. On Wednesday morning the pair will hang low in the horizon just before 7 a.m. Mercury will be low in the sky with the moon just above and right of the planet. You’ll need a good view of the horizon to see it. A little higher in the sky will be the aforementioned planet, Venus, shining brightly.

If you’re paying attention you’ll notice the moon is getting darker as the week wears on. The New Moon will arrive at 2:20 a.m. on Friday morning. That means when the skies clear out you’ll be able to see that many more stars in the night sky.

You may have also noticed that the sunsets have been getting earlier and earlier over the past few weeks. The winter solstice is still a few weeks away but the earliest sunsets of the year will be this week. Our day is 24 hours long but very rarely is the actual day, or the time between two successive solar noons, 24 hours long. This quirk leads to the fact that solar noon is actually earlier this week than it is the week of the solstice and hence the earlier sunset. According to sunrise-sunset.org the sunset on Thursday and Friday will be at 5:06:46. The sunset is three seconds later on Wednesday and two seconds later on Saturday. Happy hunting!