​Moon Passing Jupiter Brings Show On Earth’s Horizon

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February 18, 2013
Also: Jupiter, Moon, Moon Passing Jupiter, Passing, Solar System

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The moon will put on a speculator show by passing Jupiter, the brightest planet in our solar system, as it skims just below the planet from Earth’s horizon.

The view should be remarkable from all corners of the Earth. In fact, each month since November, as seen from North America, the moon and the giant planet have engaged in a series of conjunctions.

The most recent conjunction of occurred on Jan. 21, but it’s a much different story in February.

The moon will make its closest approach to Jupiter on Monday morning. Unfortunately, both the moon and Jupiter will be below the horizon for North America, which means the best observers here can do is see the moon as it approaches Jupiter on this evening, and then follow up Monday night as the moon recedes from Jupiter.

Tonight, the moon will be just past first quarter phase. At mid-twilight, roughly 45 minutes after sunset, look high in the south, more than two-thirds of the way up from the horizon to the point directly overhead (the zenith) and — weather permitting — you’ll see the moon and hovering about 6 degrees above and to its left will be brilliant Jupiter. Your clenched fist held at arm’s length measures 10 degrees, so the moon and Jupiter will appear rough half a fist apart.

On Monday night, the moon will be in a somewhat more noticeable gibbous phase, and will have moved to a point about 6 degrees to the left (east) of Jupiter.

Jupiter is still the brightest “star” in the night sky and the first to come out at dusk, high in the south. It is more than two and a half times the brightness of Sirius — the brightest star in the night sky — which in early evening sparkles in the southeast 60 degrees to Jupiter’s lower left.

Jupiter is visible all night long. It currently sets in the west around 1:30 a.m. your local time.

By the end of April, Jupiter will relinquish the title of bright evening planet to Venus, as that planet begins to emerge from the glare of the setting sun.