The coronavirus pandemic may have restricted our movements, but our eyes and minds can still roam the heavens. And there's a great reason to look up over the next few evenings.
Venus and the Pleiades star cluster, commonly known as the Seven Sisters, have come together in a dramatic conjunction that occurs just once every eight years. That conjunction will peak Friday evening (April 3), when Venus and the Pleiades star Alcyone will be separated by a mere 0.25 degrees. (For perspective: your clenched fist held at arm's length covers about 10 degrees.)
Look in the western sky after sunset; bright Venus will be very hard to miss.
"Venus's glare will practically overwhelm the cluster for naked-eye observers when it is closest, but binoculars and wide-field telescopes will show both the planet and the cluster beautifully," Space.com skywatching columnist Joe Rao wrote Thursday (April 2) in a story about how to observe Venus this month.
Venus and the Pleiades have conjunctions every year, but these extra-close ones are special; they occur every eight years, always in early April. And these sky shows will keep getting better and better over the next few decades, according to Rao.
"As Venus continues to pass a little farther north, it will actually go right through the main Pleiades stars in the years 2028, 2036, 2044 and 2052," he wrote in Thursday's story.
That's some small consolation for the folks who miss the current conjunction. But don't let that be you! On Friday evening, pause "Joe Exotic," or whatever show you're binge-watching, go outside and soak up this rare celestial spectacle.
And, in case you're clouded out or otherwise thwarted from seeing the conjunction firsthand, the online Virtual Telescope Project will provide a live webcast Friday, starting at 1:30 p.m. EDT (1730 GMT).
- Examining the phases of Venus
- The brightest planets in April's night sky: How to see them (and when)
- What is a 'morning star,' and what is an 'evening star'?
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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