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In the Shadow of the Moon

If you’re feeling something in the air, it’s because the crescent moon and the planet Venus are gearing up for a torrid flirtation in plain sight this weekend. Saturday night, both will be paired up in the sky. If you’re into the voyeurism thing, breaking out the telescope will reveal little Mercury shining just below, as if trying to get in on the rendezvous. Those of you lucky enough to be traveling in South Africa or the Southern tip of South America will be treated to the most provocative views (the moon will actually appear to blot out the planet with its body).

Here in the U.S., the celestial courtship will be easiest to spot right at sunset, when Venus and the moon will appear strikingly bright and close together. I’m no scientist, so of course I came by my knowledge of how to find Venus in the sky directly from a Grateful Dead song: “The spiral light of Venus / rising first and shining best / from the northwest corner / of a brand new crescent moon…” Translation: wherever you are, step outside and look to the northwest right after dusk.

If you’re a novice star-gazer, like me, then traveling to places where the skies are dark yield rewards like shooting stars, the outline of the Milky Way, and infinite constellations. National parks and state beaches always seem to show off the best starry views, but it’s a special treat when what’s being staged in space can shine through the artificial lights of even the biggest cities.

This caps off a busy week for the skies. Earlier, the Southern Hemisphere was treated to views of what’s being called the brightest comet in 40 years. From Machu Picchu in Peru to Ayers Rock in Australia, Comet McNaught streaked across the sky bright enough to make any exhibitionist proud–and any astronomer blush. Already, though, this stratospheric striptease is on the wane as McNaught hightails it on back to the sun.

For those of us who check to see if there are any astronomical events taking place during our travels, there are more moon shenanigans in early March, when it undergoes a total lunar eclipse. I’m trying to decide where I should go to watch this one… Ocean, mountains, or desert?

rachel_berg

My name: Rachel Berg.

Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.

View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.

Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.

Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.

Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.

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