Month’s plan­ets

Venus shines bright in the evening, while Saturn and Mars meet up with the Moon

All About Space - - Contents -

Venus will re­turn to the sky in April as a beau­ti­ful “Evening Star,” bright enough to dom­i­nate the sky af­ter sun­set and draw the eye away from ev­ery­thing else. Not only that, but it will be in a part of the sky rich with star clus­ters, and will have a spec­tac­u­lar close en­counter with the young Moon mid-month.

At the start of April Venus will be rel­a­tively low in the west af­ter sun­set, but with each day that passes it will climb a lit­tle fur­ther away from the Sun, im­prov­ing its vis­i­bil­ity un­til it is set­ting more than three hours af­ter the Sun. To see Venus at its best you’ll want to be some­where with a clear view to the west, as your view­ing won’t be cut short by the planet dis­ap­pear­ing be­hind trees, a hill or build­ings. It will be im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous to the naked eye, but if you have a tele­scope it will show you Venus as a bright, gib­bous disc.

On 17 April, a beau­ti­ful, cres­cent Moon will be shin­ing be­low and to the left of Venus. By the next evening the Moon will shine to the planet’s up­per left, and you should see the sub­tle laven­der glow of Earthshine il­lu­mi­nat­ing the dark part of the Moon’s disc. Af­ter sun­set on the 19th the Moon will have climbed fur­ther away to Venus’ up­per left, but they will still be a stun­ning sight to­gether in the twi­light.

In late April Venus will ap­pear to drift up to­wards, and then pass, the fa­mous Pleiades star clus­ter. On the evening of 24 April the planet and clus­ter will be just un­der three-and-a-half-de­grees apart. This ce­les­tial fly-by will look par­tic­u­larly pretty through binoc­u­lars. Venus will then slide up be­tween the Pleiades and the nearby V-shaped Hyades clus­ter. Look for Venus shin­ing along­side the Hyades’ bright­est star, red-hued Alde­baran, on the 27 April.

Venus is of­ten called “Earth’s Twin” be­cause it is roughly the same size, but the sim­i­lar­i­ties end there. Earth is an oa­sis com­pared to the fur­nace-hot night­mare world of Venus. Venus is thought of by many plan­e­tary sci­en­tists as the for­got­ten planet; although a hand­ful of space probes have been sent there, and other space agen­cies have stud­ied it, other plan­ets, no­tably Mars, tend to get more at­ten­tion paid to them by NASA. Lots of mis­sions to study Venus have been pro­posed over the years, but none have been ap­proved. This is a great shame, be­cause not only is Venus a fas­ci­nat­ing planet in its own right, but study­ing its cli­mate and weather in the same depth other mis­sions have stud­ied Mars and Saturn would tell us a lot about global warm­ing and at­mo­spheric sci­ence, which might help us com­bat cli­mate change here on Earth.

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