Catch a Beam­ing Beauty at Sun­set

The Washington Post Sunday - - The Region - By Blaine P. Fried­lan­der Jr.

Sim­ply, the planet Venus is ra­di­ant. Wan­der out­side at sun­set on any evening in May and look west. You can catch this ef­fer­ves­cent ob­ject for about two hours af­ter sun­down. It is hard to miss, as it looks like a dis­tant air­liner with its land­ing lights on. Only the Moon and Sun are brighter ob­jects in our sky.

Venus reigns at neg­a­tive fourth mag­ni­tude, and that is ul­tra bright. Over the next few weeks, it will ap­pear to get closer to the stars Cas­tor and Pol­lux in the Gemini con­stel­la­tion. By the end of May, Venus and those two stars will pass one an­other in the night sky. Mark your cal­en­dars for May 19, as you’ll see a new moon loi­ter with Venus.

As Venus is gor­geous, Mer­cury is fleet. May pro­vides a good op­por­tu­nity to see this speed­ing planet. Mer­cury will leave the pro­tec­tive glare of the Sun at the be­gin­ning of the month and climb the west-north­west­ern sky ev­ery night.

Mer­cury’s neg­a­tive sec­ond mag­ni­tude (very bright) makes it a planet to be­hold. By month’s end, the planet is seen at zero mag­ni­tude, which is a lit­tle more dim. On May 17, the sliver of a new moon will scoot by Mer­cury in the west­ern evening heav­ens. Our fa­vorite nim­ble planet will stay only un­til the first week of June, when — once again — it will sneak out of view.

Find Saturn high in the south at sun­set, as the large ringed planet will be at zero mag­ni­tude (bright). As May goes on, you can watch Saturn move to­ward the west­ern heav­ens ev­ery night. Saturn and Venus will con­junct in late June.

And speak­ing of fast movers, Jupiter as­cends the east­ern sky be­fore mid­night now, yet will rise about dusk at the end of May. You won’t miss this east­ern sky ob­ject, as it will be a neg­a­tive sec­ond mag­ni­tude (very bright) ob­ject.

Down-to-Earth Events

May 5 — Melissa Hayes-Gehrke speaks about “The Many Facets of White Dwarfs” at an open house, Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory, Col­lege Park. 9 p.m. In­for­ma­tion: 301-405-6555 or www.astro.umd.edu/ open­house.

May 8 — Carolyn Porco, Cassini imag­ing-team leader, talks on “Ex­pe­di­tion to the Ringed Planet: Cassini Ex­plores Saturn, Its Rings and the Foun­tains of Ence­ladus,” at the Lock­heed Martin IMAX Theater, Na­tion- al Air and Space Mu­seum. 8 p.m. Tick­ets free but re­quired. In­for­ma­tion and tick­ets: www.nasm.si.edu or 202-633-1000.

May 9 — “Ful­fill­ing a Dream of Flight: An Evening With Astro­naut Eileen Collins,” a lec­ture, at the Lock­heed Martin IMAX Theater, Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum. 8 p.m. Tick­ets free but re­quired. In­for­ma­tion and tick­ets: www.nasm.si.edu or 202-633-1000.

May 10 — Find out why black holes share a con­nec­tion with galaxy for­ma­tion. Luis Ho of the Carnegie Ob­ser­va­to­ries ex­plains “The Search for Su­per­mas­sive Black Holes.” At the Carnegie In­sti­tu­tion of Wash­ing­ton au­di­to­rium, 1530 P St. NW. 6:45 p.m. In­for­ma­tion: 202-328-6988 or www.carnegie­in­sti­tu­tion.org. May 11 — John Mather, a 2006 No­bel lau­re­ate, dis­cusses “From the Big Bang to the No­bel Prize” at the Philo­soph­i­cal So­ci­ety of Wash­ing­ton, John Wesley Pow­ell Au­di­to­rium, next to the Cos­mos Club, 2170 Florida Ave. NW. 8:30 p.m. In­for­ma­tion: www.philsoc.org.

May 12 — Mercedes Lopez-Mo­rales of the Carnegie In­sti­tu­tion of Wash­ing­ton ex­plains “Ama­teur Tele­scopes Can Do Real Science” at the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Astronomers meet­ing, at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory, Col­lege Park. 7:30 p.m. In­for­ma­tion: cap­i­tal astronomers.org.

May 18 — E.T., check your MyS­pace. See the pre­sen­ta­tion “The Search for Ex­trater­res­trial Intelligence” at the Mont­gomery Col­lege plan­e­tar­ium, Takoma Park. 7 p.m. In­for­ma­tion: www. mont­gomerycol­lege.edu/de­part­ments/planet.

May 19 — Sean O’Brien of the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum hosts a Satur­day Star Party at Sky Mead­ows State Park, near Paris, in Fauquier County, from 8:15 to 11 p.m. Park­ing fee. Ar­rive be­fore dark. In­for­ma­tion: 540-592-3556; www.dcr.vir­ginia.gov/ state_­parks/sky.shtml.

May 19 — The Na­tional Park Ser­vice and the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Astronomers host “Ex­plor­ing the Sky” at Rock Creek Park, near the Na­ture Cen­ter, in the field south of Mil­i­tary and Glover roads NW. 9 p.m. In­for­ma­tion: 202-895-6070 or cap­i­ta­las­tronomers.org or nps.gov/rocr.

May 20 — As­tronomer Xi Shao ex­plains “Earth’s Ra­di­a­tion Belt” at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory, Col­lege Park. Scan the sky through a tele­scope af­ter­ward, weather per­mit­ting. 9 p.m. In­for­ma­tion: 301405-6555 or www.astro.umd.edu/open­house. Fried­lan­der can be reached at Post­Sky­Watch @aol.com.

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