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Image: Sky  map for Jan. 10, 2013 sunrise
Starry Night Software
At sunrise on Thursday January 10, this will be the naked-eye view of the moon and Venus, low in the southeastern sky.
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updated 1/9/2013 7:19:38 PM ET 2013-01-10T00:19:38

Early-bird stargazers will have to rise early Thursday to catch sight of the two brightest objects in the night sky — Venus and the moon — engaged in a final pre-dawn dance. 

To catch the celestial sight, set your alarm clock to ring one hour before sunrise, then quickly head outside. Make sure you go to a viewing site where your east-southeast sky is free of any obstructions such as buildings or trees, since what you’re attempting to see will be poised low above the horizon. 

You’ll be looking for the brilliant planet Venus, and hovering only just above and to its left will be a hairline crescent moon, just 2-percent illuminated and about 32 hours before reaching its new phase. Since the moon became a morning fixture, this will mark the sixth time that it has gotten together with Venus to form an eye-catching configuration.

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The moon is very close to us, only 224,000 miles distant, and lit from behind by the sun. Venus, on the other hand, is on the far side of its orbit, on the far side of the sun, 14,724,000 miles away. Because it is on the far side of the sun, it is almost fully illuminated by the sun. In a telescope magnifying 160 times it appears as big as the moon does to our naked eye, and it almost resembles a full moon in its illumination. [ Stargazers' Night Sky Photos for January ]

Unfortunately, this will be the last of such Venus-moon spectacles for some time.

Venus has been a bright morning "star" since it emerged into view shortly after its dramatic transit across the face of the sun late last spring, but now it's finally on its way out. Actually, Venus has slowly been getting lower in the dawn sky for the last four months.

In January, this dazzling orb doesn't even rise until morning twilight is under way, and it is only about 10 degrees up in the sky — the equivalent of your clenched fist held at arm’s length — by the time it fades away in the brightening morning sky. But Venus' great brightness still renders it easily visible in the east-southeast until just before sunrise. 

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The sooner you look for Venus this month, the better: By month's end the planet won't  appear over the horizon until after mid-twilight, preceding the sun into the sky by only about 40 minutes.

Although Venus is still three months from superior conjunction with the sun, the fact that it is placed well south of the celestial equator keeps it very low as seen from mid-northern latitudes. As it draws closer to the sun, Venus will drop deeper into the bright morning twilight, eventually being rendered invisible after the first week of February.

Venus will begin to re-emerge very low in the west-northwest evening sky shortly after sunset during the second half of April. From then on, it will spend the rest of 2013 getting progressively higher and more prominent as an evening object. But it won't be until nearly nine months from now, on Sept. 8, that it will again have a close encounter with the moon.

Editor's note: If you snap an amazing photo of Venus and the moon, or any other night sky object, that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for TheNew YorkTimes and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.Astronomer Geoff Gaherty of Starry Night Education contributed to this report.

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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