Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), on Wednesday November 14th. At that time the Moon will more or less be at a distance of 31.70 Earth diameters 404,341 km (251,246 miles) from the Earth.
Does our Moon actually go around the Earth? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*
On the day of the apogee the 7.5-day old waxing crescent Moon, at sunset local time (5:05 pm CST), will be over the southern horizon and joined by several planets. Just over the western horizon are the naked-eye visible planets from west to east: Jupiter, the inner planet Mercury, Saturn, and finally Mars. Neptune is shown however at 8th requires optical assistance or a camera to become visible.
Read this very informative article about the Earth-Moon system and their orbital motions, written by Joe Hanson. “Do We Orbit the Moon?”
(The animated graphic is set to 1-day intervals.)
In addition to the Moon moving along in its orbit the Earth is also moving eastward along its orbit around the Sun. As the Earth revolves the sky shifts toward the west gradually moving the stars closer to the western horizon. Even the planets gradually shift toward the western horizon and out of sight.
Friday September 7th the outer planet Neptune reaches a position in its orbit around the Sun when it is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. This coincidentally is known as opposition, and it is an orbital position which only the planets further from the Sun than the Earth may reach.
At opposition an object orbiting the Sun beyond Earth’s orbit rises and sets in a fashion similar to our Moon when it is at full phase, in that the object at opposition rises at sunset and sets at sunrise.
Friday August 24th the waxing gibbous Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.
On the day of the node crossing the 13-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be over the southeastern horizon about an hour after the Sun sets. The planet Mars is about 15o to the west (right) from the Moon, and further west are the planets Saturn and Jupiter. Neptune is shown to the east from the Moon but with an apparent magnitude of almost 8 Neptune would only be visible with an optical aid.
Friday August 3rd all of the planets, except for Mercury, and some of the Dwarf Planets will be over the horizon during the hours before sunrise and the hours before sunset. The dwarf planets Pluto (14.2), Haumea (17.2), Makemake (16.7), and Eris(18.5) with low apparent magnitudes are too distant to be visible other than with larger aperture telescopes. However Dwarf Planet Ceres, at 8th magnitude could be visible with smaller telescopes and certainly with long exposure time imaging.
Sunday December 3rd the position of the planet Neptune with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called Eastern Quadrature. Neptune is at a 90 degree angle from the Earth – think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Neptune follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Neptune rises after the Sun and sets after the Sun.
Where is Neptune now? The 8th planet from the Sun is currently within the constellation of Aquarius the Water Bearer and has recently completed its retrograde motion (November 22th).
This is a 1 minute clip from a video I made showing Neptune and some of its moons as viewed from the Voyager 2 spacecraft. This clip is from a longer video of a tour of the solar system and was part of a live musical performance called “Orbit”. The performances were done at the Gottleib Planetarium in Science City at Union Station in Kansas City MO.