Look up tonight! The moon will ‘smile’ at Venus in ‘one of the most beautiful celestial sights of 2023’ – here’s how to see it from Britain
Our lunar satellite will flash a cheeky smile at Venus tonight, in what is considered one of the most beautiful celestial sights of the year.
In the eastern night sky the moon will resemble a Cheshire Cat Grin as he passes Venus, which will shine like a yellow-tinted beacon.
The moon is in its “waning crescent” phase, with only about 15 percent of its surface illuminated by sunlight as seen from Earth.
Officially, the two perform a ‘conjunction’ – the name for two astronomical objects when they appear close together in the sky as seen from Earth.
The spectacle will be easily visible to the naked eye, although it will look clearer with a telescope or even with regular binoculars.
In the eastern night sky, the moon looks like a Cheshire cat’s grin as it passes our rocky neighbor Venus
The planet Venus and the crescent moon are pictured on March 24, 2023 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China
What is a conjunction?
In astronomy, a conjunction occurs when two objects in the sky, such as moons, planets or stars, appear very close.
Conjunctions are common in our solar system because “the planets orbit the sun in approximately the same plane – the ecliptic plane – and thus follow similar paths across our sky,” according to NASA.
So while there’s “no deep astronomical significance,” as NASA puts it, “they’re fun to watch.”
According to In-the-Sky.org, the moon will be closest to Venus at 10:34 GMT on Thursday morning.
But they should be visible together all night tonight, from 02:44 GMT, when Venus rises above the horizon.
In North America, the spectacle will also be visible in the eastern night sky from just before 3am.
Visibility will generally be good in Britain, so Brits can enjoy the sights for hours as long as they dress warmly.
Venus and the moon will be about one degree apart in the dark – about the width of two full moons side by side – so they will be visible together in one field of view with a telescope.
Although the two will reach their closest point after sunrise (10:34 GMT), they should still be visible at this time due to their brightness.
A Met Office spokesperson said there will be varying levels of cloud cover across Britain this evening.
“Initially the best visibility will be in northern areas, including much of Scotland and northern England,” the spokesperson said.
‘Later overnight and into the early hours of Thursday morning, cloud breaks are expected to become more frequent across much of central and southern England, although cloud cover may persist in the far south-east.’
For the rest of the week, the crescent moon will appear lower and lower in the night sky as it moves away from Venus.
A waning crescent moon is where it is very close to becoming a new moon, reduced to a thin crescent that looks like someone is grinning
Here the crescent moon and Venus are depicted in Bangkok on March 24, 2023, after an occultation (Venus is obscured by the moon)
Venus is the brightest object in the night sky after the moon, but the closeness of the two tonight makes them unmistakable.
In a starry background, the planets can be recognized by their distinct lack of sparkle; stars twinkle, while planets usually shine steadily.
In addition, Venus is completely covered in a thick carbon dioxide atmosphere and sulfuric acid clouds, giving it a pale yellow appearance.
According to EarthSky, an occultation will also be visible during the day – with Venus hidden from view behind the moon.
The occultation will be seen from Northern Canada, most of Greenland, Iceland, Spitsbergen, Western Russia, most of Europe, parts of North Africa and most of the Middle East.
Venus is known as Earth’s “evil twin” because it is also rocky and about the same size, but its average surface temperature is a sweltering 870°F or about 465°C.
Thanks to its dense atmosphere, Venus is even hotter than planet Mercury, even though the latter orbits closer to the Sun.
Images show the waxing moon, full moon and waning moon as they appear during the 29.5-day lunar cycle
The moon, on the other hand, has almost no atmosphere to speak of and reaches night temperatures of -130°C.
The moon is known to change in appearance (as seen from Earth) due to the amount of sunlight reflected from it.
Over the course of 29.5 days, it gradually goes from a new moon — where it is essentially invisible to Earthlings — to being 100 percent illuminated (a full moon) and back again.
A waning crescent moon is almost a new moon, reduced to a thin, curved line that looks like someone is grinning.
A ‘waning’ moon simply means that the visible area is decreasing, while a ‘waxing’ moon means that the amount of illumination on the moon is increasing.
The phases of the moon
Like the Earth, the moon has a day side and a night side, which change as the moon rotates.
The sun always illuminates half of the moon while the other half remains dark, but how much of that illuminated half we can see changes as the moon travels through its orbit.
In the Northern Hemisphere the phases of the moon are:
1. New moon
This is the invisible phase of the moon, where the illuminated side of the moon faces the sun and the night side faces Earth.
2. Waxing Crescent
This silver patch of moon is created when the illuminated half of the moon is largely pointed away from Earth, while only a small portion is visible to us from our planet.
3. First quarter
The moon has now completed a quarter of its monthly journey and you are seeing half of its illuminated side.
4. Waxing Gibbous
Now most of the Moon’s dayside has come into view and the Moon is brighter in the sky.
5. Full moon
This is as close as we can get to the sun illuminating the entire dayside of the moon.
6. Declining gibbous
As the moon begins its journey back to the sun, the far side of the moon now reflects the moon’s light.
7. Last quarter
The moon looks like it’s half-lit from Earth’s perspective, but in reality you’re seeing half of the half of the moon illuminated by the sun – or a quarter.
8. Waning crescent moon
The Moon is almost back to the point in its orbit where the dayside faces directly toward the Sun, and all we see from our perspective is a thin curve.