Look for the beacon of Venus about a half-hour after sunset on Saturday, June 6, above the southwest horizon.
The second-to-innermost planet, affectionately called the ‘evening star,’ will today appear at its farthest point from the sun, also called its greatest elongation. Sitting some 45 degrees east of the sun, Venus will shine at -4.4 magnitude, making it about 10 times brighter than Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, visible to its upper left.
After Saturday, Venus will sink closer to the horizon and the sun each day. By August 10th it will disappear in the glare of the sun and will reappear in the morning sky.
While Venus appears impressive to the naked eye all summer long, through even small telescopes, high magnification reveals the planet to be half-lit, much like a miniature quarter moon—a sight worth enjoying.
For more skywatching events check out my weekly National Geographic viewer’s guide.
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On this very special week we celebrate Valentine’s Day the sky is full of romance too with the moon pointing to a giant lion’s heart and the mythical goddess of love shining at its most brilliant.
Over the course of the next few days there is a whole line-up of stargazing targets for both the unaided eyes to backyard telescopes.
The brightest planets in the sky remain both Jupiter and Venus. Meanwhile you can still catch Mercury as it is fading fast low in the evening twilight in the southwest horizon. Your best chance to see the innermost planet now is with binoculars.
Mars aficionados will have to wait until near midnight for it to rise in the east and will be at its highest in the south in the pre-dawn hours. If you have good atmospheric conditions a telescope will show off some of its largest surface features. Best views of the Red Planet though will be in April when its apparent diameter will be 50% wider.
Finally Saturn rises around local 1 am and climbs to its highest point in the southern sky by dawn. You can get a two-for-one deal since Mars will be its far right.
Get all your observing details for these and other sky events this week at my weekly skywatching column at National Geographic News.
Tags: astronomy, Constellations, Jupiter, Mars, Planets, skywatching, space, Stargazing, stars, Valentine, Venus
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Skywatchers around the world get set to see a striking triple planetary meetup in the evening skies the likes of which won’t be repeated until 2026.
From May 24 to 27, Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter will appear to converge in the low northwest sky after sunset and all you need to see this event are just your eyes!
The best part of the show will be on May 26th when all three planets are huddled together in a tight triangular formation. Check the image below for what it will look like in your low northwestern sky.
For all the details check out my skywatcher’s guide at National Geographic News
Tags: conjun, conjunction, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus
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Warm summer nights and awe-inspiring shooting stars are an unbeatable combination! That’s why skywatchers look forward to the annual Perseid meteor shower. Visible with the naked eye from the city to cottage country, dozens of “shooting stars” will light up the late-night skies. With the waning crescent moon rising above the horizon only around 1 am tonight, the peak date of August 11th, this cosmic light show will surely put on an impressive display. Skywatchers get to see a flurry of shooting stars start 10 pm with rates increasing until pre-dawn hours Sunday. Anywhere from 20 to 80 shooting stars per hour depending on local sky conditions.
Here is my Night Sky episode that talks all about the shower and some bonus planets that are joining the show too!
EXTRA: Sky-watchers with backyard telescopes, though, might join NASA in training their lenses on the moon for an elusive, potentially flashy Perseid sideshow.
Read my National Geographic observers guide for more information on how some backyard telescope owners watch Persieds actually impact the moon!… http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/08/120810-perseid-meteor-shower-perseids-science-space-astronomy/
Tags: Jupiter, meteor shower, Perseids, Venus
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For skywatchers August will be a busy month with a meteor shower and multiple planetary close encounters!
For early bird skywatchers the goddess of love, Venus dominates the dawn skies in the east perched firmly in the constellation of Gemini, the twins. The great white beacon rises nearly 3 and half hours before the sun every morning and through a small telescope appears like a miniature version of a quarter moon.
Look below Venus for its fainter companion Jupiter – the largest planet in the solar system – sits below nestled between the horns of Taurus the bull constellation. On August 11th the moon will form a celestial triangle with the jovian giant and the eye of the bull – the star Aldebaran. Two mdays later a razor thin crescent moon will park itself to the upper right of Venus.
Watch these two worlds closely and you will notice that while they have been hanging around each other for the past couple of months, the much speedier Venus will quickly increase the gap with Jupiter so that by the end of the month there will be 40 degrees apart.
On August 13 for those with telescopes, Venus will do a disappearing act as it slips behind the very upper portion of the crescent Moon during the daytime. Known as an occultation, this dramatic event however will be a real challenge to catch because it will be occurring in the late afternoon while luna sinks quickly in the low western horizon sky. The first hint of Venus creeping behind the moon will begin at 4:36pm and will take about 25 seconds to completely disappear. Since the moon will be only a few degrees in altitude (eastern N. America) your best bet to catch this event is to find a location that has a clear line of sight right down to the western horizon – like highway overpasses, hilltops and lakesides. Check out a listing of occulation times here.
But there is even more cosmic action in the evening skies. Look towards the west at nightfall for an impressive stellar grouping of the planets Mars, Saturn and the star Spica, in the constellation Virgo. Take note of the diverse colours of these three objects, with orange-hued Mars, yellowish Saturn and brilliant blue-white Spica. The most eye-catching aspect of this stellar trio will be watching them play musical chairs in the sky as they shift positions over the course of the month as they move along in their respective orbits around the Sun.
Then at dusk on August 21th the three objects form an equatorial triangle with the waxing crescent Moon just below.
Shooting Stars Galore
The big astronomical crowd pleaser this month however has to be the famous Perseid meteor shower. Peaking on the night of August 11th and into the early morning hours of August 12th, conditions promise to be good this year because there will only be a crescent moon rising after 1 am so minimal interference from its light is expected. You can expect up to 20 to 30 meteors per hour visible from suburbs and up to 60 from a dark sky.
You can expect about half that many the night before (Aug.10) and after (Aug.13). Best way to see the shower is to lie back on the ground or on reclining lawn chair facing the northeast sky with your naked-eyes. Most of these meteors are the size of a grain of sand and are travelling at about 150,000 km per hour, burning up at about 100 km above your head.
The Perseids get their name from the constellation Perseus – where the shooting stars seem to radiate from in the sky. The meteor shower originates from a cloud of particles in space that was shed by a comet that orbits the Sun. Every year at the same time of year, Earth slams into this cloud of debris, creating a cosmic shower in the heavens above.
BTW if the skies are clear and you are in Montreal area on August 11th, join me and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada for a free Perseids star party at the Morgan Arboretum in Ste. Anne De Bellevue starting at 8pm with a lecture- rain/cloudy date is August 12th.
Tags: Mars, Saturn, Venus
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It’s worth waking up early these days to check out the amazing view in the eastern sky at dawn. Venus dominates the sky, while Jupiter to its upper right and the Pleiades star cluster complete the picture postcard view!.
Astrophotographer Marc Ricard captured the cosmic scene this week from Warkworth, Ontario using a Canon 60D DSLR with a single 19 second exposure and 35mm, f/1.4 lens. Look carefully and you can even see the strong light from Venus illuminating the clouds in front of it! Wow! The goddess of love is burning bright now.
Tags: Jupiter, Pleiades, Venus
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Tags: Jupiter, Venus
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Look towards the low eastern horizon at least 30 minutes before your local sunrise Wednesday (July 4) you get a chance to see planet Venus – brightest celestial object in the middle of the 250 light year distant Hyades cluster – the head of Taurus the bull. Meanwhile 65 light year Aldebaran and- the ye of the bull is below and jupiter is above Venus.
Tags: Taurus, Venus
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Skywatchers this week should check out super-bright Venus glide past one of the most famous and bright star clusters in the entire heavens – an event that occurs only once every 8 years.
Making for a pretty photo op the cosmic odd couple will be at their closest on Tuesday and Wednesday evening, separated by only 0.5 degrees – equal to the width of the full moon disk. It amazing to think that while the planet is about 100 million km from Earth, the beautiful Pleiades star cluster sits 400 light years away!
Also known as the Seven sisters, the Pleiades is one of the better known sky targets for binoculars and telescopes, but with Venus right next door – both objects will easily fit into view under low magnification. Look towards the high western sky after sunset – waiting maybe at least 30 minutes or more – and you can see with the naked eye, the hazy patch of light next to Venus. THe pair will set around midnight affording plenty of time to soak in this amazing sky spectacle. This rich open cluster actually has more than 40 young stars as members – no more than 10 million years old - and most can be seen with binoculars and small telescopes. But the naked eye will still pick out the brightest five to seven of its stars.
If you have never seen this beautiful deep sky object, then let Venus be your guide.
Skywatching EXTRA: When out looking at the Venus -Pleiades match-up Tuesday and Wednesday nights, spin around and look towards the southeast for the waxing gibbous moon. It will be making a tight triangular formation with orange hued planet Mars on the upper left and to its right, the 77 light year distant bright white star Regulus – the heart of the mythical Leo the lion constellation. Here’s a star map on what it will look like….
Tags: Pleiades, Venus
Posted in Planets, Stargazing, stars | 1 Comment »
In Montreal, Canada, where I am based skies are about 60% cloudy so chances are usually that I miss an astronomical event but this week I have been blessed with some clear skies and managed to catch at least some of the planet-moon show going on in the western sky at sunset. Here are a couple of my attempts at capturing the cosmic beauty of the Venus-moon conjunction of March 26, 2012.
Tags: conjunction, Earthshine, Jupiter, Venus
Posted in Planets, The Moon | 2 Comments »