I don’t know if you were out after dark last weekend, or looked out a west-facing window. If not, you missed quite a show. The very young crescent moon, Venus, and Jupiter were all together in the western sky shortly after sunset. On Friday it was (top to bottom) Jupiter-Venus-moon, in a long curving line; then, on Saturday night, the moon and Venus were making out, right next to each other, with Jupiter looking on from above; Sunday evening, it was moon and Jupiter, with Venus glaring down below; on Monday, another long curve, top to bottom Moon-Jupiter-Venus. (Mercury was supposedly down there somewhere, but, as I’ve noted before, I am evidently destined never to see Mercury.)
It was beautiful, and scary, and brilliant. I actually took pictures of it, and if you’ve ever tried to take pictures of the moon or stars, you’ll know that the photos usually don’t turn out. You can see in the photo above how bright the conjunction was, and how remarkably beautiful.
It’s a cosmic optical illusion. The moon is only a quarter of a million miles away. Venus is – what? – maybe thirty million miles away. Jupiter is hundreds of millions of miles away. But they all happened to be in the same line of sight at the same time .
We were watching a game of cosmic Skee-Ball. All these planets and moons whizzing around in our line of sight! Beautiful, eerie, mysterious.
From Diane Ackerman’s book “The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral,” the last few lines of “Asteroids”:
So wide apart
To its neighbor’s
Of watertight miles.
Only in the longest view
Do they graze
Like one herd
On a breathless tundra.