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On February 16, 2017, here in the Western Hemisphere, Venus will reach its greatest illuminated extent. Those of you in Australia, New Zealand, Asia will see this on February 17.
You shouldn’t need an “event” to look up at the night sky in wonder, but this might be a reason to look up tonight and know a bit more about what you are seeing.
Look for Venus in the west after sunset and you will also see Mars nearby to the left (south) and a bit higher. That “evening star” is at its most brilliant because its day/illuminated side is covering more square area of Earth’s sky than in its 9.6-month appearance in the evening sky.
If you looked through a telescope, you would see that Venus’ disk is just a bit more than one-quarter illuminated by sunshine, and the full Venus is always on the far side of the sun from us. So, we are seeing Venus as a crescent at its greatest illuminated extent – and still, it is spectacular.
Back in early June, I wrote about looking westward in evening twilight and easily spotting the planet Venus as the brightest “star.” That third-brightest object in all the heavens (after the sun and moon) was accompanied then by an also bright Jupiter.
From then on, Venus slowly began to sink toward the sunset. Like the arrival of the Perseid meteor shower, this movement is surer than the seasons in nature. Sometimes summer stays longer than the calendar tells it to stay and winter comes earlier or later. But today, 10 weeks later, Venus will set with the sun and make its transition out of the evening sky and into the morning sky.
The celestial clock clicks forward, unconcerned with us and our little lives.
Tonight, May 21, 2015, Venus is quite clear near the waxing crescent moon in the western sky. Venus is the third-brightest celestial object in our view, after the sun and moon.
The fourth-brightest celestial body is Jupiter and it is above the moon and Venus and can also be seen at dusk. If it is a clear night for you, you will see, as the darkness deepens, the bright star Regulus above Jupiter, and the Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux , will come out above Venus.
Venus and Jupiter are tens of millions of miles apart, but they have been cycling together while moving ever closer to each other this month and are joined by Mercury. This weekend they appear as a bright triangle of light in the western sky beginning about 30 minutes after sunset.
This triple conjunctions is a pretty rare. The last one was in May 2011 and the next one will not occur until October 2015. This weekend’s sky show is a good one because it involves the three brightest planets in May’s night sky, so even observers in cities with bright lights can see them on a clear night.
All three planets will be about 3o degrees apart (the width of your thumb at arm’s length) about 45 minutes after sunset on May 25, 26 and 27. Tonight, Mercury forms the top of the triangle. By Monday, Venus and Jupiter will be side by side, less than 1 degree apart.
As the month ends, Venus and Mercury will climb higher into the evening sky, while Jupiter drops toward the sun.