Jimmy Westlake: Venus returns to the evening sky | SteamboatToday.com

Jimmy Westlake: Venus returns to the evening sky

The planet Venus will pass by the Seven Sisters star cluster on April 24, providing a stunning view just as darkness falls. The event will look much like it did March 31, 2004, as captured in this image.
Courtesy Photo

— It’s been nearly a year since the planet Venus graced our evening sky. Venus spent last spring, summer and fall as our Morning Star, rising in the east an hour or two before the sun. Then, on Jan. 11, Venus passed behind the sun as viewed from Earth in an event called superior conjunction and officially entered our evening sky. Like a race car on the inside track, Venus moves around its orbit faster than Earth and gains a little on us each day. Consequently, Venus is moving out of the sun’s glare and higher into our evening sky every night. You can see it at about 6:30 p.m., glimmering like a bright star, low in the colorful western sky.

Venus is the brightest object visible in our sky, except for the sun and moon. When at its brightest, Venus can cast faint shadows over the snow-covered ground. Venus is not self-luminous, but simply reflects sunlight toward us like a mirror. Its atmosphere, filled with yellowish-white clouds, reflects the sunlight well. Combine that with its relatively close proximity to Earth, and it’s easy to see why Venus shines so radiantly in our sky. The planet flip-flops between our morning sky and evening sky, spending about 10 months shining in each as it orbits the sun.

Through most of 2010, Venus will dominate our early evening sky as our Evening Star. Here are some upcoming cosmic moments, starring Venus, to which we can all look forward:

■ April 4: Mercury joins Venus in the evening sky, just 3 degrees away.

■ April 15: Look for the thin crescent moon with Mercury and Venus at about 8:30 p.m.

■ April 24: Venus passes just 3.5 degrees from the Seven Sisters star cluster.

■ May 15: Venus and the crescent moon form a striking close pair after sunset.

■ May 21: Venus passes only 0.5 degrees from the M35 star cluster in Gemini. Use binoculars.

■ June 14: The crescent moon again joins Venus for a twilight spectacle.

■ June 19: Venus passes 0.75 degrees from the Beehive star cluster in Cancer. Use binoculars.

■ July 9: Venus passes 1 degree from the bright star Regulus in Leo.

■ July 14: Mercury, Venus, Mars and Saturn line up with the crescent moon at about 9:30 p.m.

■ Aug. 7: Venus passes 2.8 degrees from Saturn with Mars nearby.

■ Aug. 12: Mercury, Venus, Mars and Saturn cluster near the crescent moon at 9 p.m.

■ Aug. 13: Mercury, Venus, Mars and Saturn once again cluster near the crescent moon at 9 p.m.

■ Aug. 19: Venus reaches its greatest angular distance east of the sun, 46 degrees, setting two hours after the sun.

■ Aug. 31: Venus passes 1 degree from the bright star Spica in Virgo.

■ Sept. 10: Venus, Mars and Spica cluster around the crescent moon low in the west after sunset.

■ Oct. 9: Venus and Mars make a final curtain call with the crescent moon right after sunset.

■ Oct. 28: Venus reaches inferior conjunction, passing between the Earth and sun, and moves into our morning sky, thus ending her evening apparition.

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