Looking Up: Catch the 'Evening Star,' planet Venus
If you have a clear, open view to the west, this is a good time to marvel at the wonders of the Universe after you finish dinner.
Early in the evening, as twilight is setting in, look for a brilliant point of light contrasting with the deepening ashen blue. This is the planet Venus, the second rock from the Sun. Its nearness to our star and its white cloud cover reflect a lot of sunlight back to us, making Venus so prominent.
Also take note of the beautiful Moon. It’s at First Quarter phase on Saturday, March 24; Full Moon is on the 31st.
Venus shines at magnitude — 4 this month, which is far brighter than any star in the night sky. When it is visible higher and in a darker sky, it is noted by even the casual bystander who rarely considers looking up. When see in the west after sunset, Venus is regaled as the Evening Star. When it is prominent in the east before sunrise, it is called the Morning Star. There were instances during World War II when American forces were startled by Venus and fired at it, thinking it was an enemy plane.
To the lower right of venus look for the planet Mercury. the first planet from the Sun is quite a bit dimmer than Venus; you may need binoculars due to the evening dusk.
Both Venus and Mercury exhibit phases like the Moon, when seen in even a small telescope. This is because they orbit closer to the Sun than the Earth, and from our vantage point, the night side of these planets partly face us at times.
In a small telescope these planets will appear bright but small, and not likely very sharp due to air turbulence low in the sky.
Venus currently appears as a tiny roundish disc.
Over the next few months, keep watch in a telescope as Venus moves up in its orbit and changes phase, growing in size and becoming half-lit like a first quarter moon, and this fall, large crescent.
Jupiter rises in the southeast between 11 p.m. and midnight. Jupiter is very bright (magnitude - 2.3). Between 4 and 5 p.m. The 5th planet from the Sun will appear at its highest in the south. Mars and Saturn are fairly near each other over to the left of Jupiter. They are both around +0.5 magnitude, quite bright; Mars is the redder one.
Keep looking up!
— Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.