Friday, May 25, 2012

The Crescent of Venus

Look to the west-northwest at 9 p.m. for a starlike object just above the horizon. That is no star; that is Venus.

At 28 million miles, it is near its closest approach on June 5, and, consequently, Venus shows a relatively large angular size in the sky. Use binoculars to spy its thin crescent phase. If the planet's glare is too great, wear sunglasses. A good digital camera on full zoom should be able to pick up the crescent, as well. In a few days, Venus will be lost in the bright evening twilight, next to be found crossing the solar face on the evening of June 5.

Such is our view from Earth...

Monday, May 21, 2012

A ghostly crescent Moon joins Venus

If you have clear skies, look to the west-northwest tomorrow night (Tuesday) thirty minutes after sunset. The very thin crescent mMon, after having slid across the face of the sun yesterday, hovers above the ridge lines as a ghostly image. Next to it lies bright point of Venus. Use binoculars for an easier, better view.

Such is our view from Earth...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Annular Eclipse? Not for us!

On Sunday May 20, the sun becomes partially eclipsed by the Moon beginning as the sun sets. While the eclipse will be missed completely by Virginia observers, those farther west will see at least some of the event. For observers in parts of northern California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and west Texas, an annular eclipse just might be witnessed. This special type of partial solar eclipse happens when the whole moon crosses directly in front of the sun, which normally gives a total solar eclipse. This time, however, the moon is near apogee, i.e., in its farthest point from the Earth, and therefore, appears smaller in the sky than usual. Since it is smaller, it does't cover the full face of the sun, but leaves a ring of brilliant sunlight streaming around it. This is an "annular eclipse." As with other partial solar eclipses, do not observe it without the proper solar filters!

Such is our view from Earth...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Venus: the beginning of the end

Brilliant Venus is sinking fast in the west-northwest right after sunset. The planet, which has dominated our western sky over the past few months, ends its reign in just a few weeks as it approaches the sun. Since Venus orbits closer to the sun than the Earth, occasionally it moves between the sun and the Earth. This happens on June 5.

Be sure to watch this beacon over the next few weeks as it drops closer to the set sun each evening. Venus' evening reign is ending.

Such is our view from Earth...