By Scott Levine
A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of writing a monthly astronomy column here at The Examiner. It was fun, and I always appreciated the comments some of you sent. I loved knowing there were other people who shared the excitement and derived enjoyment from those articles.
After a break, I’m glad I can bring the column back and start things again.
Like lots of us, I’m not a scientist, just someone who loves the sky. My hope for this column is to bring the night sky to everyone, young or old, whether you look up every night or have never looked up before. There’s enough to see any night of the year that we usually won’t need telescopes here; just that love for and curiosity about the sky.
A great place to start, even if you have the fanciest of lenses, is with one of our closest neighbors. If you’ve looked toward the skies in the west over the last few weeks, you might have noticed a single bright and icy white light staring back at you.
Clouds like angry blankets of acid and fire cover the planet Venus, and hide the absolutely horrible truth about what’s happening there: a runaway greenhouse has made temperatures hot enough to melt lead, poisonous air and an atmosphere so heavy that it crushed the spacecraft we’ve sent to the surface.
From here, however, where we’re safely sequestered 75 million miles away, the second rock from the sun is a truly gorgeous sight. As all that mayhem happens there, we get to sit back and just enjoy those clouds kicking enough sunlight back toward us that it’s dazzling whenever we see it – evening or morning. It’s so stunning, that it carries the name of the Romans’ goddess of beauty and love.
As it happens, this March is a particularly good time to see Venus. It’s the third brightest object in the entire sky, after the sun and moon, and at times like these, it’s not uncommon for people to call the police, worried it’s a UFO or something else from space!
If you can, treat yourself and take time to watch night fall around both you and it. Watch it appear to brighten as our skies change from pink and orange to a deep, starry black as afternoon becomes evening, and then deep night.
As March progresses, keep an eye on that patch of sky. At dark, Venus will be a little higher, and it’ll set a little later each night. On Mar. 24, it will reach greatest eastern elongation – the place where, from our point of view, it’s farthest from the sun in the evening before it starts to move back toward it again. That night, Venus won’t set until after 11 p.m. As this happens, the stars of the constellations Orion and Taurus will seem to march toward it. We’ll talk about those more next month.
Remember to set your clocks ahead before you turn in on Saturday night, Mar. 7. That’s also a great time to check your smoke detectors’ batteries and grab a new toothbrush, too.
As we come into the last couple of weeks of winter, the sky is already changing, with Venus leading the way. I hope you’ll take a look.
Scott Levine (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a lifelong astronomy lover and a member of the Westchester Amateur Astronomers, dedicated to astronomy outreach around our area. For information about the club including membership, newsletters, upcoming meetings, lectures at Pace University and star parties at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, visit www.westchesterastronomers.org. Events are free and open to the public.