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Field Notes

For all of you early risers out there, you may have taken notice of a pile of bright stars in the morning sky. They can be found above the eastern horizon just before sun-up. And they are not really stars at all, but planets in our solar system.
These are our neighbors – Jupiter, Mars and Venus – that are providing this spectacle, and they have been hanging very close together. In fact recently they all would have fit into the “Big Dipper” found in the more northern sky.
While Jupiter and Mars are not quite as bright as they sometimes can be since both are very far away from Earth now, Venus takes up the slack and more than makes up the difference. This second rock from the sun is also the second brightest object in the night sky, after the moon. Similar in size to Earth, Venus’ surface is obscured by clouds which reflect a huge amount of sunlight and cause this eye catching marvel.
Named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, Venus has a couple of unusual quirks. For instance, it is the only planet to rotate in a counter-clockwise or retrograde rotation. It also is the only planet to have no natural satellites or moons. And temperatures and pressures are too high for anything to exist there.
This convergence of planets happens from time to time and is completely predictable, but no less impressive. But there is one more interesting act to this drama.
The waning crescent moon will be passing through that same celestial neighborhood on November 6 and 7.
Like a smile from Alice’s Cheshire Cat, this “fading to new” moon will draw further attention to the meeting of the “wanderers.”
So, this is your opportunity, assuming that we get some clear weather over the next few days, to see a little drama in the early morning skies. Between 5:30 and 6 a.m., look to the southeast just above the horizon and enjoy the ethereal view of our neighborhood.
Dave is a telescope operator at the Green Bank Observatory and can be contacted at

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