2018, May 4: Venus and Jupiter in Evening Sky

Brilliant Venus shines from the western sky this evening.  On a day that started windy with rapidly moving clouds, winds from the northwest prevailed and brought in classical May evening skies to the Chicago area.

Venus appears in the western sky throughout the spring and summer.

Meanwhile in the eastern sky, Jupiter appears near the horizon.  Just a few days before its opposition, when it rises at sunset, Jupiter appears low in the sky.  Jupiter’s opposition begins a 79-day interval where three bright outer planets — Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn — appear close to Earth and bright in our sky.

For more about the bright evening planets, see these articles:

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2018, April 25: Venus and Sirius

Brilliant Venus shines from the west-northwest this evening.  It is now setting over 2 hours after sunset.  After you locate Venus look to the left along the horizon.  Sirius, the brightest star, is in the southwest, at about the same altitude (height above the horizon) as Venus. They will be at about the same altitude for the next several days. Compare their respective brightness: Venus the brightest planet and Sirius the brightest star.  Venus is about 10 times brighter than Sirius.

For more about the bright evening planets, see these articles:

2018, April: Watch Venus Move Through Taurus

During late April, brilliant Venus moves through the stellar background of Taurus with its two bright star clusters:  Pleiades and Hyades.

On April 24, Venus is closest to Alcyone, the brightest star in the Pleiades cluster.  They are 3.5 degrees apart.

The Pleiades is a compact grouping of bright bluish stars known to school children as “The Seven Sisters.”  The cluster resembles a tiny dipper.  To the unaided eye, 6 or 7 stars are visible.  A dozen or so through binoculars.  A few hundred through telescopes.  The Hyades are nearby.  This group resembles a check mark, a letter “V” when Aldebaran is included, although it is not part of the cluster.

Astronomical theory describes that stars are formed in bunches from a stellar, gaseous nebula.  Over time the mutual gravitation pull of the stars within the cluster is not strong enough to keep the group together.  The Hyades and Pleaides are close enough (within 400 light years) that they can be seen without a telescope.  Many star clusters are just beyond the perception of our eyes.

The star cluster pair is best-observed through binoculars,  Start observing Venus’ movement through the region nightly at mid-month.  On April 18, the crescent moon appears among the Hyades.

Watch the events unfold during the spring evenings.

For more about Venus and the bright evening planets, see these articles:

2018, Summer: Evening Planet Parade: Five Bright Planets Visible During One Evening

For about a month near the summer solstice, five planets are visible during the early evening, but they are not easily visible simultaneously from mid-northern latitudes.  As the sky darkens a parade of planets extends across the sky from brilliant Venus in the west to Mars in the southeast. The “X” factor of seeing 5 planets simultaneously is Mercury. It reaches its greatest elongation on July 12, although Mercury is visible throughout its apparition.

For more southerly locations in the United States and farther southern latitudes, see this article:  2018:  Five Planets Visible at Once

Here’s how to look for the five planets:

June 16, 2018:  Start looking for Mercury early it its apparition, although the rising time for Mars is much later.  From an observing location with a clear horizon, locate the speedy planet Mercury 30 minutes after sunset. Mercury sets 63 minutes after sunset, 15 minutes before Nautical Twilight (sun’s altitude is -12°).  Mars rises in a dark sky nearly 3 hours after sunset.  At 30 minutes after sunset on this evening, Venus is 25° to Mercury’s upper left.  The waxing crescent moon (3.3 days old) is 7.9° beyond Venus.

July 2:  Again with binoculars first locate Mercury 10° up in the west-northwest 30 minutes after sunset with brilliant Venus 16.6° to Mercury’s upper left.  Regulus is 8.1° beyond Venus.  Mars touches the east-southeast horizon 25 minutes after Mercury sets and 15 minutes before the end of twilight.

July 12: At sunset, Mercury is 13° up in the west-northwest.  Thirty minutes later, it has an altitude of only 8.5° with brilliant Venus 16.4° to its upper left.  Venus is 3.4° beyond Regulus.  Mercury sets 78 minutes after sunset and Mars touches the southeast horizon at the same time.  Locate Mercury, then wait until Mars clears the east-southeast horizon.

July 17: The best evenings for seeing all five planets are around this date, but you’ll need optical assistance.  Thirty minutes after sunset, dimmer Mercury is 5.1° above the horizon.  Mercury is dimmer as the apparition continues so optical aid is needed to first locate it. Regulus is 9.5° to the upper left of Mercury with Venus 8.5° beyond the star.  Mars rises six minutes before Mercury sets, although both are low in the sky.    Twilight lingers for over 2 hours at this time of the year at mid-northern latitudes.

On July 17, 2.5 hours after sunset and after Mercury sets, the planet parade arches across the southern sky.  Brilliant Venus sparkles 5° up in the west and Mars is 5° up in the southeast.  Saturn is 32.8° to the upper right of Mars, above the Teapot of Sagittarius.  Jupiter is 50.8° to the west of Saturn and 1.8° to the west of Zubenelgenubi.  The moon (5.0 days old) is nearly between Venus and Jupiter.

Another opportunity to see five planets simultaneously, from mid-northern latitudes, occurs in the morning near the time of the summer solstice in 2020.  While these groupings are infrequent, they provide magnificent displays of the solar system’s beauty.

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2018, March 21: #Venus, Mercury and Moon, The Early Show, #Mercury Slips Into Bright Twilight

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Click through this short slide show to see Venus, Mercury and the Moon this evening.

Brilliant Venus shines from the western sky this evening.  Now setting nearly 90 minutes after sunset, this evening planet appears higher each evening at the same time.

Dimmer Mercury is 4.5 degrees to the right of Venus.  Binoculars help finding its location.  It is rapidly diving into bright twilight and fading in brightness.  On April 1, it passes between Earth and Sun, and moves into the morning sky,

The 4.5-day old crescent moon appears 38 degrees above Venus this evening.  Watch it appear higher in the sky, more distant from Venus, and with a growing phase as it continues through its celestial path.

The articles that follow provide details about the planets visible without optical assistance (binoculars or telescope):

2018, March 18: Venus and Mercury, The Early Show, The Moon Joins the Party

A thin crescent moon, nearly 1.5 days old, joins brilliant Venus and Mercury this evening. Mercury is partly hidden by the clouds.

Venus is entering the sky after its superior conjunction. Mercury is a few days past its greatest separation from the sun and heading toward its solar inferior conjunction in early April.

Tomorrow evening Mercury is lower in the sky and the waxing crescent moon is about 13 degrees to the upper left of Venus.

The articles that follow provide details about the planets visible without optical assistance (binoculars or telescope):

2018, March 17: Venus and Mars, The Early Show, Mercury Heads Towards Conjunction

Brilliant Venus shines again from the western sky this evening during twilight. It is emerging from its solar superior conjunction and is in the sky for most of the year.

Speedy Mercury is now past its greatest elongation and begins setting earlier each evening. It passes between Earth and Sun on April 1.  Its departure occurs quickly during the next two weeks. Also notice that Mercury’s brightness is fading as well. This evening Mercury appears 3.9 degrees to the upper right of Venus.   Tomorrow evening the moon joins the view.

The articles that follow provide details about the planets visible without optical assistance (binoculars or telescope):