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Beautiful sky show underway

Sunday - 2/19/2012, 7:02pm  ET

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Clear skies should make stargazing easy this week. (Photo Courtesy of Sky & Telescope)

Greg Redfern, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The skies are supposed to be clear Monday, so swing by the George Mason University Observatory for Public Night at 6:45 p.m. The new 32-inch telescope, as well as a 12-inch telescope, will be available for looking at Jupiter, Venus and other sky highlights. Get the latest updates on the observatory's status and schedule here.

Speaking of Venus and Jupiter, have you noticed these bright planetary lights high in the west after sunset?

Venus is the brightest object in the night sky other than the moon. Jupiter is bright as well and both planets are moving towards one another in the coming weeks. They will be closest to one another next month on March 12 and13. But to get the most out of this pretty sky show, start watching now.

Find an area that is free of bright lights and has a good view of the western sky. Venus is the brighter and lower of the two planets. If you look low along the western horizon, golden-yellow Mercury -- the planet closest to the Sun -- is also visible.

As an added bonus, the crescent moon will be gliding by all three planets starting on the 22nd when it is to the right of Mercury. This pairing will be hard to see as both will be low. Binoculars will give you the best chance to see the duo about a half hour after sunset.

The sky watching gets easier as the moon passes Venus on the 25th for a spectacular sky pairing. There are few sky sights prettier than a crescent moon with earthshine hanging in a dark sky close to brilliant Venus.

For the uninitiated, earthshine is the ghostly light seen in the dark of the moon that is caused by the reflection of sunlight off Earth's clouds and oceans. The view through binoculars or a small telescope will reveal some of the moon's craters and rays bathed in earthshine. It is quite a sight to see.

The moon joins Jupiter in the sky on the 26th. A pair of good binoculars will show the four main moons of Jupiter while a view through a telescope shows them as star-like points. The moons are in constant motion around the largest planet in the solar system and there are times when some of the four are not visible. These main moons were discovered by Galileo when he used his crude telescope to observe Jupiter in 1609 and 1610.

Read More About the planetary sky show here.

Other highlights in the sky are the brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is sparkling brilliant and blue in the south at about 8:30 p.m. with the constellation Orion just to the right. Orange-red Mars is well up in the east at 10 p.m., while Saturn follows after midnight.

Follow my daily blog to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)