Three planets rising behind the Moon? No, just the one. And it’s not the Earth. To wit:
Just after sunrise two days ago, both the Moon and Venus also rose. But then the Moon overtook Venus. In the featured image sequence centered on the Moon, Venus is shown increasingly angularly close to the Moon. In the famous Earthrise image taken just over 50 years ago, the Earth was captured rising over the edge of the Moon, as seen from the Apollo 8 crew orbiting the Moon. This similar Venus-set image was taken from Earth, of course, specifically Estonia. Venus shows only a thin crescent because last week it passed nearly in front of the Sun, as seen from Earth. The Moon shows only a thin crescent because it will soon be passing directly in front of the Sun, as seen from Earth.
That especially bright star in the evening sky of late is actually the planet Venus. This evening, it will begin to cross the beautiful Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster. To wit:
This digital sky map illustrates the path of the inner planet as the beautiful conjunction evolves, showing its position on the sky over the next few days. The field of view shown is appropriate for binocular equipped skygazers but the star cluster and planet are easily seen with the naked-eye. As views from Earth (top pic, 2004), Venus again passed in front of the Seven Sisters (pic 2) 8 years ago, and will again 8 years hence. In fact, orbiting the Sun 13 Venus years are almost equal to 8 years on planet Earth. So we can expect our sister planet to visit nearly the same place in our sky every 8 years.
An appulse is an apparent conjunction of two celestial bodies caused by perspective only – in this case, the Moon and (to its apparent left) Venus, viewed in the early morning from the darkness of a crater on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu by Alex Dzierba. To wit:
The Moon was in a crescent phase with its lower left reflecting direct sunlight, while the rest of the Moon is seen because of of Earthshine, sunlight first reflected from the Earth. Some leaves and branches of a foreground kiawe tree are seen in silhouette… Appulses involving the Moon typically occur several times a year: for example the Moon is expected to pass within 0.20 degrees of distant Saturn on March 1.
Over the next month keep an eye on Venus-Jupiter planetary duo as they quickly begin to converge in the sky. This weekend the two will be separated by about 23 degrees; by the end of the month it will be half that, and by mid March they will be less than 3 degrees. That’s equal to the width of your three middle fingers held at arms’ length!