Triple treat for stargazers

This month's full moon occurred at 2.34am today. If the sky is clear tonight, it will be well worth heading out just after sunset to enjoy the splendid sight of a 99%-illuminated moon clearing the northeastern horizon, Ian Griffin writes.

Ian Griffin
Ian Griffin
In Dunedin, moonrise occurs just after 9.15pm, so if you are free, I would certainly recommend finding a vantage point somewhere atop Otago Peninsula. The sight of the 99%-illuminated moon rising over the Pacific Ocean, distorted by atmospheric refraction effects, is simply astonishing.

Once the moon rises in the northeast, something pretty special is happening on the opposite side of the sky. That's why, once you have fully sated your soul with the immense beauty of moonrise, I recommend a quick 180-degree pirouette to absorb the sight of three bright planets gathering in the eastern sky.

Venus is the brightest and the lowest of the trio. An hour after sunset, the planet will be just 8 degrees high in the southwestern sky. Despite its relatively low altitude, Venus will be so bright that it should be easy to spot. This week the planet is a smidgeon under 226 million km from Earth.

Above and to the right of Venus is Jupiter. At a distance of 900 million km, the largest planet in the solar system is almost four times further away from Earth than Venus. Both are in the constellation Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer, a fact which, I am sure, astute readers will note is not mentioned by our esteemed astrology columnist in their planetary prognostications to the right of this article. Astrologers eh?

Saturn is the third and by far the most distant of our planetary triumvirate. Located to the right of the teapot of Sagittarius, the ringed planet is more than 30 degrees above the horizon an hour after sunset. At a distance of more than 1.5 billion km from Earth, the reflected sunlight light you see when looking at this beautiful world has taken more than 87min to reach your eyes.


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