Eyes to the Sky: Song of the evening sky, Venus' brightest week
Venus is an anchor in the crystalline blue sky of late afternoon. When the sun, lean and low in its winter position, drops into the trees in the southwest, the gleaming planet appears.
Venus’ stunning white light, reflected from its deep, vaporous sulfuric acid and water cloud cover, catches the lucky eye near to where earth meets sky, where the sun was seen almost three hours previous. Through next week, our neighbor planet is brightest of its current apparition as Evening Star and sets close to 7 o’clock.
A young crescent moon floats above Venus this evening and Saturday, the moon broadly flanked by bright Altair to the west (right) and Fomalhaut south (left). Opposite the goddess of love and beauty, in the east-northeast, brilliant Jupiter rises shortly before Venus sets. The king of the gods will travel the heavens all night and greet us from the west in the morning.
Although Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, it appears smaller than Venus to the naked eye. Jupiter is the fifth planet out from the sun, an "outer planet"; Venus, an "inner planet," is second from the sun and closest to Earth.
Notice two seemingly paired stars close to Jupiter: the planet is traveling with the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux (the brighter of the two). The great constellation of winter skies, Orion the Hunter, rises to the planet’s right (east). See 3 stars in a row at the constellation’s midline, with a star punctuating either side.
There’s no better time for early evening stargazing than now. Darkness falls in the afternoon! We have arrived at the earliest sunsets of the year. Sundown is at 4:21 today and each day through next Thursday.
To contact Judy Isacoff go to: www.naturesturn.org
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.