Astro Bob blog: Queen bee returns to the hiveVenus near a star cluster tonight plus amateurs can watch for a new set of clouds on Jupiter
By: Bob King, Duluth News Tribune
Queen bee returns to the hive
Venus and clouds at twilight yesterday evening. The planet is covered in a perpetual overcast which gives the surface a "cloudy day" light. Those same clouds efficiently reflect sunlight back out into space, making Venus the brightest of the planets. Details: 180mm lens at f/2.8, ISO 800 and 2-second exposure. Photo: Bob King
On the way home last night, Venus poked out from behind the clouds of a departing storm front. Feathery cirrus painted a soft nimbus of light around the planet. I stopped and set up a makeshift "tripod" of wallet, checkbook, plastic food container, book and baseball cap on the hood of my car and took a few photos.
The scene was atmospheric in every way. Clouds lingered, the air was moist, and Venus, the cloudiest planet of them all, lit a corner of the western sky. Despite their distance from one another, our two planets seemed to find a common interface through their shared airiness.
This map will help you find the Beehive tonight to the left of the planet. Look during late twilight when the sky is getting dark but the planet is still readily visible. Maps created with Stellarium
Venus will battle clouds again tonight if the weather forecast holds true. Should fate be kind and the sky clear, take a pair of binoculars and point them at the planet, the easiest thing to find in the night sky outside of the moon. Venus is the only big, bright "star" shining in the sunset direction about an hour after the sun leaves the scene. During late twilight, point a pair of binoculars at the planet and look to its left. If your sky is haze-free, you'll see a delicate sprinkling of stars there called the Beehive Cluster.
The Beehive (right) is one of the few naked eye star clusters of which the Pleiades or Seven Sisters is the most famous. It's been known since ancient times and looks like a fuzzy patch of light when it's high in a dark sky. Don't expect to see it with the naked eye tonight though. Lingering twilight will make that impossible. As you gaze at this little gravitationally-bound group of stars in your binoculars, consider that Venus is in the foreground a mere 108 million miles away, while the cluster is 577 light years or 3 trillion, 462 billion miles in the background. Long way for anything to fly, let alone a bee.
The moon will make finding the planet Saturn easy tonight. Look up as soon as it's dark.
As long as you're outside tonight, take a look higher up in the southwestern sky at the moon. Rougly one outstretched fist above it is the planet Saturn. The moon is in first quarter phase and will show a crater-textured terminator (the day-night dividing line along the left side of the moon), through binoculars magnifying 7x and higher.
This photo taken June 13 shows Jupiter and its largest moon Ganymede. The white curlique is a rift or tuft of higher cloud over the planet's prominent North Equatorial Belt. Credit: Anthony Wesley
More advanced amateur astronomers may want to set their alarms for 4-5 a.m. over the next few days to spot the newly-formed white rifts in Jupiter's North Equatorial Belt (NEB). These bright streaks are most likely higher-altitude ammonia clouds floating above the lower clouds in the belt. Sometimes enough rifts develop that they join together to create a bright zone, dividing the NEB in two.
Good luck and clear skies whatever your pleasure -- eye, binoculars or telescope.
(Beehive photo courtesy NOAA/AURA/NSF)