NASA: Look west at sunset for a rare space show

Posted at 2:31 PM, Apr 03, 2012
and last updated 2012-04-03 16:18:07-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Clear skies tonight should make for ideal viewing of one of April’s first great sky-shows: the meeting of Venus and the Pleiades cluster of stars (also known as “The Seven Sisters”). You can see Venus with the unaided eye April 2 if you look west after the sun sets (which in Richmond is shortly after 7:30 p.m.) for a bright light that neither sparkles nor twinkles (as a star appears to do).

Sky Map: Science@NASA

NASA scientist Dr. Tony Phillips says this is “a rare sunset conjunction.” If you have binoculars, that will enhance your viewing of this even more! Phillips says, “Venus passes through the Pleiades in this way about once every 8 years.” So take advantage of the clear skies tonight and Tuesday evening to observe this rare sky show.

A little more about the Pleiades: they’re relatively young, as star ages go. They’re a mere 100 million years young, forming at the same time dinosaurs thrived on Earth. They’re also almost too far away for the naked-eye to see at a distance of about 400 light years from us.  Phillips says, “The biggest and brightest members are blue-white and about five times wider than our own sun.”

Phillips describes what this meeting from our perspective on Earth will look like: “When Venus joins them in conjunction, it will look like a supernova has gone off inside the cluster. Venus’s thick clouds reflect so much sunlight, the planet outshines every thing in the night sky except the Moon.”

Enjoy the show!

Meteorologist Carrie Rose