Become One with the Solar System Tonight

OK, checking out the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus last night was a bust on Cape Ann because of the clouds. But tonight is the night. Tonight is the night you can become one with the solar system and all you need is some decent birding binoculars and a view of the sunset.

Sunset is at 5:27PM. Once it gets dark the sky above that setted sun in the west will look like this:

[edit] Donna was going out at 5:15 PM which is too early (and too cold). Nautical twilight is 6:30 PM, good start of the show and astronomical twilight is 7:00 PM which is good for photography unless you want to pick up some foreground lighthouse or something.

OK, here is where the “become one with the solar system” happens. Take your binocs and check out Venus. It’s not quite round. That is because it circles the sun inside the earth’s track around the sun and it is mostly full but slightly “waning gibbous**”. Since you know where the sun is (just below the horizon, duh), you can really feel where it is in 3D. An inner planet speeding towards us.  Now take a look at Jupiter. An outer planet it is lit as a complete circle. But while you are there check out the four moons of Jupiter that you can spot with binocs.  Callisto top left along with Io and Ganymede also on the left and very close together with Europa hanging down bottom right. Look at them tomorrow and they’ll be different. So now you are really picking up on the 3D effect of everything spinning around. And do not forget our moon sitting there lit up on the bottom from the same light source lighting them all up, our sun. With decent wide field birding binoculars you should be able to get Jupiter and her moons and earth’s moon in the same view!!

Now that you have them all burned into your brain and the sky gets even darker as the sun sets consider that the reason the sun is setting is that you are standing on a planet spinning back away from the direction you are looking at about 900 mph. Planet earth, northern hemisphere spinning back so that that the inner and outer planet as well as the central sun of the solar system and even the moon of your home planet slowly moves to set in front of you. Got it all pictured and positioned in 3D? Are you dizzy?  Best show on earth and it’s all free complete with the Dog Bar Breakwater thrown in. You see it first but that dude on the beach in California is 3,000 miles in front of you so his front row seat moves into position in about three hours. Can you see him? Down in front!

I’m going to check it out from Halibut Point if the wind does not blow me away. Click the diagram for more details at Earth Sky dot org.

** Venus is waning gibbous which means it is moving away from full as it speeds towards us. If you check with binocs over the next month as it gets closer to sunset but also closer to us it will become a crescent.

Future Study: Milky Way Galaxy and how you fit in it: The Universe by Monty Python. The song is where I got the 900 mph. A great reference.


  • What? great information… I guess I will go down to Shore Road about 5:15 with my Tri pod, camera, dictionary and bincos… Thanks..


  • Too early, you’ll catch a cold. 6:30PM is nautical twilight which is a good time to start picking up jupiter and Venus. 7:00 PM is Astronomical twilight which means wicked dark. Get out there between those times.

    I’ll add this info so no one gets frostbite out there.


  • That’s fascinating! Thanks.


  • Well done, Paul.
    When I was a very young kid, my friend Sharon’s uncle, who was a REAL scientist, took me stargazing one night. Although that was about 64 years ago, I distinctly remember his lecture and it was very similar to yours. That night lit in me a fuse of fascination with the heavens that is with me to this day.
    I hope your commentary will light a whole batch of fuses for young and old alike.



    • My father did the same to me. Back in Boy Scouts he taught the Astronomy, Cooking, and Rifle&Shotgun Merit Badges. For Astronomy I had to learn 100 constellations/objects in the sky instead of the 25 like everyone else in the class. Not sure I could do it today.

      ps. At 5:30PM they’re up over the house now and heading to the west. (Or should I say, we are heading east at 900 mph.


  • I got to take a drive but later on I’ll post a photo. Got shots of Jupiter/Venus/moon with a 50mm on Sharon’s camera. That was just long enough to get all three in a frame. I was also able to pick up red Mars before it sank below the horizon.

    With the birding binocs Venus was just one bright bead. Really could not see any gibbous to it. Maybe in a month it will get some crescent to it. I was able to get Jupiter and the moon in the same binoc view. Zeroing in on Jupiter I could pick up Callisto and Io on the left but Europa was missing from the right. It isn’t astronomical dark yet, another 30 minutes so it might pop out then.


  • Thanks for the heads up Paul. I took some Photos from my Deck. I’ll share them Tomorrow.


  • I am the (or a) dude in California. Pretty cloudy tonight near Stanford, but last night was a great astronomical show.


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