25 April 2010

A Beacon in the Twilight

As the days grow longer and the last vestiges of twilight linger later in the evening, look to the West this week for some very beautiful planetary/celestial lineups. The week features fast-moving Venus passing very near to some of the most spectacular star clusters in the night sky, the Pleiades and the Hyades.

When you look into the twilight sky, the brightest objects shine majestically against the bright blue background. That is the case for Venus this week, as it is for the young crescent Moon each month when it shines low in the West in the first few days after new Moon. However, in order to see the star clusters near Venus, you will need to use binoculars. The stars are there to see, but the bright twilight makes them all but invisible to the naked eye. It's worth the time to get out and see this spectacle. Sunset in San Francisco is just before 8:00 pm, and the sky will be dark enough about 45 minutes to an hour after that.

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