1) Celestial Pin Ball continues tonight with Venus practically slamming into Jupiter in the western sky over Cape Ann just after sunset. I posted about it here and here.
But we live in New England so we have missed the approach of Venus in the past week except for a glimpse and tonight right before they come into view we will leave this slice of clear air and clouds will again block our view. Try and get a glimpse because it is the closest aproach of these two planets in 2,000 years. What happened 2,000 years ago? That’s right. Some people say that the combo of the two brightest objects in the sky (besides sun and moon), was the Star of Bethlehem.
If you do catch a peak, check them out with binoculars and consider the fact you are looking at an inner planet as a crescent and a giant outer planet with four moons visible. Be one with the universe.
2) For science geek awesomeness it does not get any better than tonight at midnight 23:59:60 which will be followed by 24:00:00. How can that be? Those are the same exact times! But this is how those sneaky scientists wedge an extra leap second into today. So pour yourself another drink because today is longer than any other day of the year. Also pray that satellites and planes do not fall from the sky as computer systems worldwide add a second to their systems in different ways. Google is so freaked that they are going to do what they call a “leap smear” and spread the additional second over several minutes.
If you google “Google Leap Smear” this image is the first hit. Enjoy your 23:59:60. It is also possible, besides the internet exploding, that this is an actual head exploding of the one person who thinks 60 seconds on a microwave is longer than typing in one minute.
FYI: The leap second is added because the rotation of the earth is slowing and 1 PM would eventually become high noon. The leap second is also being added at midnight Greenwich Mean Time. That is 8 PM on Cape Ann so if you want to send a text message to your loved ones be sure you get it done before 7:59:59 tonight. Go out and look at the Star of Bethlehem instead.
Holy cow, New England weather is going to give us clear skies tonight as an impressive threesome happens after sunset.
Here’s the deal. There was a supermoon last night but it’s a new moon so no one saw it. It means tonight it is one humongous thin fingernail. But wait, there’s more. Venus will be blazing away just to the left of the fingernail. But here is the cherry on top. Whip out some binoculars and check out Mars just above Venus! You might be able to get all three in wide field birding binocs. But even without binocs it will look pretty cool.
Look to the right of where the sun set and Venus will be blazing. Mars up and sliver of moon to the right.
Photographers Ephemeris shows where you need to be to catch the three setting over City Hall. Is that Joey’s dock?
Did I really type “sunset hear”? Well to all the grammarians who just started grinding their teeth I say, “lighten up Francis, I’m not going back to change it.”
Credits: First shot I made in “StarSafari” astronomy program. Gloucester Area Astronomy Club Approved. The second photo I made using “The Photographers Ephemeris“. Probably GAAC approved too. Both programs worth knowing how to use.
Click to embiggen. Since it is kind of boring I threw in a wiggly shot wherein the moon looks like Casper the Friendly Ghost as well as a shot of five lemons dressed up as cute pigs. Just keep clicking.
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:
 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.
I wasn’t going to post this because every time I point out something astronomical the dang clouds move in. But I see some blue sky right now. Tonight, just above the setting sun, the waxing crescent moon hangs with Venus (the bright one), and Jupiter. Sunset is 5:26 PM.
Click the photo to go to EarthSky and get the details. The moon will be marching up past those two planets over the next few days so don’t be bummed if one of these 30 mph clouds is blocking it all tonight.
If you happen to be up as astronomical twilight begins at 5:30 AM you can catch Mercury rising before the sunrise at 7:14AM. 6:30AM might be a good time to see it. Finding bright Venus is easy. Then go left and down to find Mercury.
Fun Fact: Joey down in St Croix doesn’t have to go as far left. If he was on the equator Mercury would be straight below Venus.