The Moon at Dusk and Dawn
A thin crescent straddles either edge of darkness
The moon wanes in pre-dawn skies through the weekend. Friday and Saturday the last of the crescent moon hovers just a few degrees below brilliant Venus. Even without the moon, you should have no trouble finding this morning star, as it is the brightest light in the sky besides the sun and moon. The next-brightest object is the star Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion, within 10 degrees of Venus, although the two are fast pulling away from one another.
With the new week comes the new moon as it winks from view behind the sun, emerging a couple days later on the other side of darkness low in the southwest at sunset.
Your first chance to spot the returning moon is Tuesday, when an ever-so-thin crescent peeks above the southwest horizon at dusk. Look for Mercury just a few degrees higher and ruddy Mars even higher still. Come Wednesday evening, the moon has climbed above Mercury, and now is positioned between it and Mars. Thursday the 18th the waxing crescent is a little higher at sunset, now a few degrees to the upper left of Mars. Don’t confuse the red planet with the similarly hued star Antares, which shines a little brighter than Mars and is just below the moon. This week the gap between Mars and Antares shrinks from 10 to five degrees.
Jupiter shines through much of the night, rising in the east-northeast around 10pm. In Venus’ absence, mighty Jove rules the heavens. Compare its steady white glow to the orange twinkle of Aldebaran, less than 10 degrees to Jupiter’s right. Aldebaran, or Alpha Tauri, is the brightest star in the constellation Taurus, the bull’s red eye. The second brightest, Elnath, or Beta Tauri, is equidistant to the left of Jupiter, and as dawn approaches all three are aligned on end above the southwest horizon.