By Joe Rao
SPACE.com Skywatching Columnist
posted: 18 May 2007
06:03 am ET
This week will be especially interesting for skywatchers because of a fine array of bright planets in our evening sky. In fact, four of the five bright naked-eye planets are now readily visible beginning about 45 minutes after sundown.
Venus is the most obvious. It is bright enough to show through the blue sky soon after sunset. Even though its greatest elongation from the Sun won't be until June 9, Venus reaches the summit of its current evening apparition this month, appearing at its greatest height in the evening twilight for the year 2007.
Venus now shines at a dazzling magnitude of -4.2 (more than 13 times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in the sky) and stands nearly 40-degrees above the western horizon at sunset (your clinched fist held at arm's length measures roughly 10-degrees in width; so 40-degrees is roughly "four fists" up from the horizon).
Venus is now staying up very late, well past 11 p.m. for many locations. On Saturday, May 19, Venus and the crescent Moon will make for a stunning sight for North Americans, as the two objects will descend down the western sky side-by-side, only about one degree apart. I wouldn't be at all surprised if local media outlets receive a bevy of phone calls that evening all asking what that "strange light" (or UFO) is to the left of the Moon.
Jupiter lights up
Meanwhile, another brilliant light is pushing its way up into the southeast sky during May evenings: Jupiter. This week the giant planet rises around 9:30 p.m. local daylight time; by month's end, it's rising closer to 8:30 p.m. and is already above the horizon as darkness falls. Jupiter shines at a brilliant magnitude of -2.6 (about one-fourth as bright as Venus). To its right or lower right is Antares, the red 1st-magnitude heart of Scorpius, the Scorpion. The full Moon will be passing to the south of Jupiter during the dawn hours of June 1.
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Edited by Lt_Ripley, 19 May 2007 - 12:09 AM.