Categories: Sky Reports
There are only two planets visible in the evening sky but they’re putting on a nice show. If you merely step outside, glance up, notice them, and return inside, you’ve missed half the show. They’re changing position at a visible rate that you can easily see from night to night, and what’s even better is that they’re in front of the many stars of the Milky Way — so you can easily note their progress. Your eyes alone are plenty good enough but as is so often the case binoculars are better.
Venus is the brightest thing in the night sky (other than the moon, of course) and it’s a third of the way up the western sky as darkness falls. It’s in front of the many stars of Gemini, the Twins, roughly midway between the orange star Betelgeuse in Orion and Aldebaran in Taurus. On the 8th use binoculars to spot the star cluster M35 less than 2° to the lower left of Venus; M35 consists of several hundred stars some 2,800 light years distant that were born together roughly 100 million years ago (compare to our sun which was born 4½ billion years ago) and that now travel together through space. It’s a grand sight through any telescope. Venus is moving eastward through Gemini and quickly distances itself from the cluster, but M35 remains.
Mars is moving eastward too, at the rate of ½° per night (half of Venus’ rate), and it’s some 20° east (upper left) of Venus. If you’ve been watching the sky regularly you’ll recall that recently Mars was below Castor and Pollux, the heads of the Twins, but it’s moving to the left of them and will soon be in line with them. The planet and two stars are very nearly equal in brightness and they form a nice trio. By your own observations when do you estimate Mars will align with Castor and Pollux? (Of course, with SkySafari and Stellarium you can look ahead.)
Venus and Mars are both moving eastward, Venus at twice the rate of Mars, but it won’t catch Mars. Venus moves only so far from the sun before it turns back and moves westward, and it will do that this summer before there can be a conjunction.
For something different, look for the star Chi Cygni, a star in Cygnus that swells and then contracts in a cycle of 408 days, changing its diameter from 121 to 288 million miles and its brightness by 23,000 times! At faintest it’s visible only a good-size amateur telescope while at brightest – predicted for this month – it’s easily visible to the naked eye and binoculars. Use an app like SkySafari or Stellarium to plot its location. Here’s another example of change in the sky that you can see for yourself.
You’ll find Saturn low in the southeast as morning twilight begins. It’s in Aquarius, a part of the sky with no bright stars, so you’ll have no trouble picking it out.
Stellar Vista Observatory provides portable telescopes and tripod mounted binocular kits on loan for free to residents and visitors in Kane County. Enhance your enjoyment of the night sky! To learn more, request a loan, or attend one of SVO’s free public star parties for 2023, visit https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/ or drop in to the Kane County Office of Tourism.