How and when to see the ‘dark side of the moon’ lit up with a ghostly glow this weekend

Here is a sparkling celestial sight that is visible to everyone on Earth this weekend: “planetshine”.

For anyone dabbling in stargazing and moonlighting at home during the lockdown, this is a sight to see and one that you are sure to seek out again.

April, May and June are the best months to see “planetshine” at its best, according to NASA.

The phenomenon of illumination of the dark side of the Moon only occurs in the last and first days of the Earth’s orbit of the Moon. Since there was a New Moon on Wednesday, this weekend there will be three chances to see a beautiful crescent moon gradually growing.

The horizon will be thin and low as the sun sets on Friday. Saturday, a little higher and between two superb star clusters. On Friday, the Moon will be brighter and much higher, near the glittering planet Venus.

In all three cases, it will be possible, in clear skies, to see “the planet shining”.

Here’s everything you need to know about ‘planetshine’ and how and when to see it this weekend.

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What is the “dark side of the moon”?

Of course, there is no such thing as a “dark side of the moon” as most people understand. The Moon is linked to the Earth due to the tide, so it only rotates once every 29.5 days, which is a full orbit of the Earth. Therefore, 50% of the Moon is still ‘dark”And 50% illuminated by the Sun, but because the Moon orbits the Earth every 29 days, we see its illuminated part growing towards full and decreasing towards“ New ”, when it is lost in the glare of the Sun.

This week, as the Moon emerges from this glare, its eastern limb will appear to be very lightly lit. However, the rest of the Moon’s surface, although darkened, will appear illuminated to our eyes. Why?

What is “planetshine”?

This is the earth albedo-slight reflected from Earth to the Moon. This always happens, but it is only visible to the human eye when only a section of the Moon itself is illuminated by the Sun. Back then, Earth was the brightest seen from the Moon – almost 100% illuminated by the Sun. So you have the perfect recipe for reflected light.

You can see “planetshine” by casting your eyes on the left side of the Moon, its darkest part. You will be able to perceive some details there during a few nights until the absolute shine of illuminated crescent waxes. As the nights go by, the Moon gets brighter and the Earth darkens), so your eyes will be flooded with light as the Earth albedo darkens – so you will no longer be able to see “planetshine”.

Other names for ‘planetshine’

It is also called “Earthshine” and “Earthlight”. On a crescent moon crescent, it is sometimes called “the old Moon in the arms of the new Moon” and on a waning crescent “the new Moon in the arms of the old Moon”.

Best times to see “planetshine” on the Moon

This is at its best on either side of a Northern Hemisphere Spring New Moon – April, May, and June – when Arctic ice and snow reflects the most light (there is less mass continental and less snow and ice in the southern hemisphere, so the effect is less in the southern spring).

The phenomenon is easily visible a few days before (therefore very early in the morning) and after (after sunset) the New Moon. The latter scenario applies this weekend, when “planetshine” will be detectable Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and with some celestial views as a bonus as well.

Friday April 24, 2020:

With the Moon illuminated at 2%, it is an excellent evening to see a thin crescent Moon displaying a “planetshine” at dusk near the western horizon. You may have to get up high to see it, but it is visible (albeit rapidly sinking) for about an hour after sunset.

Saturday April 25:

A 6% illuminated Moon will be positioned tonight between two splendid open star clusters in the constellation Taurus – the Hyades and the Pleiades (the latter is also called the “Seven Sisters”).

Sunday April 26, 2020:

With the Moon illuminated at 12% and the Earth reflecting less light, the “planetshine” becomes more difficult to see, but you should still be able to make out it on the Moon as it appears to be close to Venus. The planet is now almost as bright as ever.

Will you see the light reflected from Earth on the Moon? “Planetshine” will be back 12 nights after the “Super Flower Moon” on May 7, as our satellite declines, to become “The new moon in the arms of the old moon” again.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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