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Posts tagged ‘Venus’

That star you’ve been seeing in the morning? – It is Venus.

Two and a half weeks ago the United States painfully forwarded their clocks in accordance with Daylight Savings Time. While DST has been observed for decades this is only the 8th time DST has been observed in its ‘extended’ format (which was signed into law by then President Bush and first observed in 2007).


Screenshot from Neave Planetarium

The result is that many folks have found themselves getting up to do chores, go to work, etc. in complete darkness. This will continue until our days lengthen enough that early risers awake with the dawn, not darkness.

This year, however, there has been a bit of astronomical coincidence with the change to DST. Namely that the planet Venus has been staring people in the face for the first time.

Several people have asked us ‘what is that bright star in the sky this morning? It was in the South East, and it was BRIGHT!’. We’ve told folks that it was Venus, but oddly enough we aren’t sure everyone believed us.

Well it certainly is Venus, and it is still there. Venus is not called the “Morning Star” for nothing (in fairness it is also called the “Evening Star” when it shows up after sunset).  Venus is the 3rd brightest object in the night sky after the Sun and Moon and is bright enough that at times it can be spotted in daytime (you do have to look very hard, however).

In the past, DST came later in the year so early risers would not encounter as much darkness upon rising. For the past few years that we have been observing the extended DST Venus was not in a position to make its morning appearance.  So this is probably the first time many folks have seen Venus in its ‘Morning Star’ mode. Enjoy the view!


Venus & Jupiter – Teaming Up!

The March month of excellent planetary astronomy viewing continues tonight with a treat! Jupiter & Venus, which have been close in the early evening sky this month, are going to be almost paired up right together just after sunset this evening (3/13/2012). This is a fairly rare phenomenon and we will not see it happen again until 2015. This event can be seen with the naked eye even in light polluted regions – at least as long as the skies are clear. Be sure to take advantage of this event even if you don’t have a telescope.


5 Planets Visible

This isn’t rare, but it isn’t really common either. This month (or at least this week) astronomical viewers can have a chance to see 5 planets in a single evening.

After sunset, Mercury will be visible just above the horizon in the West sky – and we do mean just. Trees and houses may block your view of Mercury. However Venus and Jupiter will be more visible right above them also right after sunset, nice and bright, along with Mars, which while still not in occultation is pretty bright, rising in the East  just after sunset.

Later in the evening, Saturn will rise in the Eastern sky – this is the only planet you will need to wait for  as it is not immediately visible after sundown.

Although Mercury may be blocked by buildings, all of these planets can be seen with the naked eye, even in light-polluted areas.

For your best viewing be sure to get an area with a clear horizon so that all the planets can be seen.

Happy viewing!


Last Night for the Jupiter, Moon & Venus Dance!

For the past two nights, Venus, The Moon and Jupiter have been appearing very close together in the night sky, appearing around sunset and making quite a spectacle of themselves. This evening (February 27th, 2012), they will continue with their triple-conjuction. Afterwards the natural drift of three objects with very different orbits will end this conjunction. In other words, the Moon goes away. Venus & Jupiter will continue to appear together just after sunset through much of March.

These stellar objects will appear in the West-Southwest sky just after sunset, with the Moon. These planets will be visible even in the most light-polluted of skies as long as you have a relatively unobstructed view to the West-Southwest. Take advantage!


Astronomy Hints #5: Viewing the Inner Planets

We’ve covered the easiest telescope target in a previous post on viewing the Moon and now it is time to start thinking about using your telescope to view other members of our solar system – the planets. We’ll start with actually can be a harder target in some ways: The inner planets, or at least the ones closer to us. This means Mercury, Venus, & Mars.

Most of the planets are bright enough that they are not affected by light pollution much. Viewing them is subject to other atmospheric conditions, however.

Mercury – Right off the bat we should let you know that Mercury is a very tough object to view. Being the closest planet to the sun means that most of the time it gets washed out by sunlight. However, every now and then Mercury reaches its furthest orbital distance from the the sun and sticks out far enough so that right after the sun sets Mercury can be seen.  This is the best time, in fact the only time to view Mercury (although it can also be viewed when the same orbital conditions happen during a sunrise). Don’t expect very much, Mercury will appear to be little more than a dot in your telescope.  Most astronomers usually hunt down Mercury just to say that they have done it rather than for any impressive views.

Venus –  Venus is also closer to the sun than the Earth, which means it will only be visible right before the sun rises or right after the sun sets. Hence Venus’ other names “Morning Star” and “Evening Star”.  Venus will usually be very bright and easy to find when it is up. When magnified in your telescope Venus will likely have a crescent shape visible much like the Moon but probably won’t have many surface features, at least without a filter. This is because of Venus’ heavy cloud cover. That same cloud cover makes it very reflective and bright but removes any surface detail.

Note than on some occasions, with a bit of experience you can actually view Venus in the middle of the day! This takes some practice to do, however.  It is one of the occasions where a computer-aided telescope can actually help quite a bit.

Mars – Mars is the first planet that is actually further from the Sun than Earth. It is reddish in appearance -even without a telescope. When it is up you can try to crank up the magnification. Most of the time Mars is a decent object to view, but about every 24-25 months Mars reaches opposition, where it is closest to Earth. This is best time to view Mars and with decent skies, a good telescope, and high magnification you might be able to get details such as the polar caps! As of this writing the next opposition will be in March of 2012.

A note about Mars – Every time Mars comes into opposition some folks send out emails with ludicrous claims about  how Mars appear as big as the Moon in the sky. These emails are recycled from the 2003 opposition which was the closest opposition in some 50,000 years. But even during that opposition Mars certainly did not appear as big as claimed. When you get these emails, please do not forward them.

Asteroids and Minor Planets – These can be tricky targets and often require a bit of detail and knowledge of the sky to find them. They also require a good quality telescope to locate. Get some experience working with the night sky before you start hunting asteroids.

A Note About Filters:The brighter planets are often bright enough

Color Filters

Colr Fitler Set

that you can consider using color filters that thread onto your telescope’s eyepiece. These filters can help bring out surface details that would otherwise not be viewable in normal conditions. A Red #25 filter, for example, can bring out cloud detail on Venus. Trying different filters can bring a new experience to your viewing of the planets.

In our next Astronomy Hints we will tackle the bigger denizens of our Solar System (well, most of them are bigger anyway)- The outer planets!