Sharing the Night Sky
Join the party Saturday, April 28, as people around the globe take aim at the heavens for Astronomy Day. This annual event was begun in 1973 by California astronomer Doug Berger, who organized a drive to set up telescopes along city sidewalks and other public spaces so that ordinary people could better appreciate the night sky. With four of the five naked-eye planets visible along with the near-first-quarter moon, the evening shouldn’t disappoint.
Even before sunset, Venus shines high in the east, so bright you can pick her out in the still-blue sky. This week marks the peak of our sister planet’s evening apparition, when she blazes at –4.7 magnitude and doesn’t set until near midnight. Watch over the next month as the evening star plumets toward the horizon, disappearing amid the sun’s glare on June 5. On that day, Venus passes in front of — or transits — the sun, an event that won’t happen again for another 105 years. Mark the date and be prepared with proper eye protection — either #14 welder’s glass or eclipse glasses (www.mreclipse.com/Totality/TotalityApC.html).
As the sun dips beneath the horizon, look to the west for Jupiter just above the horizon for 45 minutes at best.
Sunset finds Mars high in the southern sky. Five degrees to the west is the blue-white heart of Leo the lion, Regulus. Monday evening, Mars travels the heavens with the waxing gibbous moon.
Saturn rises in the southeast a little before the sun sets in the northwest. Shining no brighter than the average star, Saturn is set apart by its steady yellow glow. See for yourself, comparing the ringed planet to nearby Spica, twinkling just a few degrees below Saturn.