It’s time to take advantage of our location outside of big city lights. The best stargazing of the year unfolds during the next two weeks. And it’s romantic too, as if kicked off by Valentine’s Day. You don’t want to miss this.
All this week, from 6 to 7 p.m. each evening, a striking backdrop hovers like a museum tapestry in the western sky. You can observe it alone, but it’s more fun if you grab the hand of someone who loves nature, whom destiny has put in your life. Your child, your wife, your boyfriend, maybe even your grandmother — take them to an obstructed site where trees, hills, or houses aren’t blocking the low western sky, where the Sun has just set.
That’s it. No other requirement. No telescope, binoculars or star chart. It’s the kind of activity enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and Mayans. You might also bring along this page. The first thing you’ll see is a super bright star, which is the evening star – the planet Venus. It’s lowish in the direction the sun set but not so low that it’s easily blocked. Directly above it is the night’s second brightest star, the planet Jupiter. These two planets outshine everything else. They’re slowly inching closer and closer together in preparation for a mind-blowing series of conjunctions. The time will soon be nigh but first we’re establishing the background, the stage setting so that the riotous action will happen in a familiar setting.
In fact, go ahead and put the critical dates in your appointment book or smartphone. Next Tuesday, February 21: the Crescent Moon will dramatically hang beneath dazzling Venus with Jupiter above them both. Then the next evening, Wednesday the 22, the Crescent Moon closely meets Jupiter with Venus beneath them both. It’s the three brightest nighttime objects, all together. Move ahead one more night to Thursday the 23 and now the Crescent Moon hovers at the top of a vertical line with Jupiter below it and Venus below Jupiter. Also add to your calendar that at that same time, between 6 and 7 p.m., the planets Venus and Jupiter closely and spectacularly come together on March 1 and a few evenings before that happens, on Monday the 27, the Crescent Moon closely meets orange Mars in that same region, the western sky in fading dusk twilight.
All the night’s brightest objects playing catch up and tag. They’re also the closest celestial bodies to earth in the entire universe. It seems tailor made for nature lovers, children of various ages, and romantics happy to fill in Valentine’s lingering glow.
And think of it: With little effort and zero money you’ve momentarily escaped the unnatural yellow glow of big city streetlights and are mesmerized by the dazzle of the ancient evening star — which on successive evenings reveals itself as having its own life and animation.