Beautiful predawn gathering

Ian Griffin's a huge fan of young and old moons.

I would like to invite you to get up early next Tuesday morning (April 2) to view a lovely sight, when an 11%-illuminated waxing crescent moon approaches brilliant Venus in the predawn sky.

Ian Griffin
Ian Griffin
With sunrise occurring a few minutes before 8am, you will need to find yourself a spot with an unobstructed view of the eastern horizon, and be there just before 4am, to make sure you get the most out of the experience.

As regular readers know, I am a huge fan of young and old moons, because as well as the innate prettiness of the crescent, if conditions are right, you also get to enjoy gorgeous ghostly earthshine, caused by sunlight which has reflected off Earth's clouds and the moon before reaching your eyes.

On Tuesday, the moon rises just after 4am, and if the sky is clear and you are really up for a challenge, you should try to view this.

Observing a crescent moon slowly brighten as it ascends over an oceanic horizon is one of my favourite things to do, and that is why I will be heading to a high spot on Otago Peninsula early on Tuesday!

Venus takes centre stage when it climbs above the skyline just before 5am. The planet will initially look quite dim because its light is being absorbed by the thick layer of atmosphere you are viewing through when looking at objects low in the sky.

Venus will brighten significantly as it gets higher in the sky, and by 5.30 it will look like a stunningly bright blue-white ''star'' directly below the moon.

Just before quarter to six, the innermost planet, Mercury, clears the horizon. While Mercury is actually closer to us than Venus at the moment, the fact that it is much smaller and doesn't have an atmosphere to reflect sunlight means that it is considerably fainter than Venus.

This means it will probably be after 6am before you can see it as a pale red ''star'' low in the east. Over the next few weeks, it is putting on its best morning display of the year.

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