Jimmy Westlake: The Evening Star returns | SteamboatToday.com

Jimmy Westlake: The Evening Star returns

— Have you seen it yet? The planet Venus has come out of hiding from behind the sun and has entered our evening sky for a seven-month run as our lovely Evening Star.

You can see it now, low in the colorful glow, shortly after sunset. Each evening, Venus will appear a little higher and a little higher until early May when it will set more than three and a half hours after the sun. Then, it will start to lose elevation a little bit each night until it passes between the Earth and sun on Aug. 15 and reappears in our morning sky to spend the rest of the year as our Morning Star.

Venus is the brightest celestial body in our sky, after the sun and Moon. On a dark winter’s night, the light of Venus can even cast faint shadows over the snow. It will be our constant evening companion through the rest of this winter, spring and much of the summer.

During that time, Venus will have striking close encounters with the Moon, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter. Here’s a summary of some of the best encounters coming up during this evening appearance:

Jan. 21 – Venus appears close to the crescent moon and planet Mercury.

Feb. 20 – Venus appears very close to the crescent moon and the planet Mars.

March 22 – Venus again appears very close to the crescent moon.

April 11 – Venus passes very close to the Pleiades star cluster.

April 21 – Venus appears close to the crescent moon and the bright star Aldebaran.

May 29 – Venus appears close to the bright star Pollux.

June 13 – Venus passes very close to the Beehive star cluster.

June 20 – Venus once again appears close to crescent moon.

June 30 – Venus passes very close to the planet Jupiter.

July 18 – Venus appears close to both the crescent moon and Jupiter.

Venus has been called the Earth’s sister planet, because the two planets are so similar in size, composition and density, but, oh, what a twisted sister she is.

Beneath her unbroken shroud of clouds lies perhaps the most inhospitable surface in the solar system, with temperatures approaching 900 degrees and pressures 90 times greater than that at sea level on Earth. It’s hard to believe that this lovely Evening Star that lights up our sky and was named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty could be such a hellish place.

All this week, little Mercury will be hanging out just to the lower right of Venus, so you can see both of the solar system’s inner planets at the same time — sort of a double Evening Star.

Professor Jimmy Westlake teaches astronomy and physics at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus. Check out Jimmy’s new “2015 Cosmic Calendar” of sky events on his website at http://www.jwestlake.com. It features twelve of his best astrophotographs and a day-by day listing of cool celestial events that you and your family can enjoy watching in 2015.

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