We are all finding new ways to have fun at home. Naturally and predictably, I’m recommending you step into your backyard and simply look up around dinnertime, just as darkness falls. So happens, this is a most extraordinary time to gaze at the heavens. Halfway up the western sky you’ll see an unbelievably bright “star.” This is of course the planet Venus, also known as the Evening Star.
Although it has been out since the autumn, it is now at its very best. This entire weekend it is joined by the crescent Moon: a lovely sight for the naked eye and stunning through binoculars. If you do own binoculars, absolutely point them at the Moon and Venus and you’ll be swept away by the loveliness. You’ll also notice a gorgeous star cluster just above the two of them. This is the famous Seven Sisters or Pleiades star cluster, and no optical instrument is better at viewing them than ordinary binoculars. I’m so excited by all this that I don’t even know what to say first about the upcoming spectacles involving Venus.
All right, start with right now, this weekend, when Venus meets the Moon and the Pleiades floats just above them. You might also glance far to the left of the Moon-and-Venus pair, to find the night’s brightest true star: the famous Dog Star, Sirius. Compare the two, Venus with Sirius. The Dog Star is distinctly bluish, whereas Venus is pure white. But the big deal is that Venus is an amazing 15 times brighter than the night’s most luminous true star. So, it’s no exaggeration to say that Venus is now nothing short of spectacular.
During the next week Venus will inch closer and closer to the Pleiades, so that a week from now, it will actually hover amongst those Seven Sisters stars, and those binoculars will be indispensable at producing a truly unforgettable sight. That’s late next week!
Assuming we’re still locked up at home a month from now, we’ll keep observing the Evening Star, and find that Venus has gotten even brighter by mid-April, while still maintaining its unusually high altitude over the western horizon. Because, you may recall, Venus is normally a fairly low-down object – but not this time around. This is her highest-up, most brilliant apparition since 2012.
So, whether you use binoculars or just your baby browns, stay focused on the west at around 7:30 each evening. This weekend it’s Venus’ meeting with the crescent Moon. Then it’s our sister planet’s parade through the famous Seven Sisters. And then through mid- and late April, we’ll see Venus at her most dazzling – capable of even casting your shadow onto a spread-out sheet or a snowy surface, if you’re away from all artificial lights.
The simple takeaway? The Evening Star has never looked better – not in your whole life.