for National Geographic News
Set your alarms early for the next few days to sneak a peek at a stargazing spectacle.
This chain of conjunctions—when objects appear to be close together in the sky—is not unusual, astronomers note. But the event will create striking cosmic groupings that should be easy to spot without optical aids.
"When the moon parks itself next to starlike objects, this is the kind of astronomical happening that everyone takes note of and anyone can really enjoy," says Anthony Cook of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.
"The only requirements you need to worry about are having clear skies and an unobstructed view of the low eastern horizon 45 minutes before dawn."
The sky show begins worldwide Friday when the waning crescent moon snuggles up to brilliant white Venus and the much fainter, rust-colored Mars.
Venus and Mars will be in close conjunction that morning—just two degrees apart, or the equivalent of four full-moon disks.
On Saturday the moon will sit to the right of the Pleiades star cluster, which lies 400 light-years away.
"They should make quite an attractive pair in binoculars, but the trick to enjoying the cluster will be to catch sight of it while skies are still dark," Cook said.
The show closes out on Sunday, when the moon sinks closer toward the eastern horizon and settles to the upper left of faint Mercury.
"For many sky-watchers Mercury is always a challenge, because it gets lost in the glare of the dawn," Cook said.
"But for one morning the razor-crescent moon will act as a wonderful guidepost to easily track it down."
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