Astro Bob: Watch Venus buddy up to Pleiades

Venus joins the Pleiades at the same time Mercury makes its best appearance.

Venus and Pleiades
Venus and the Pleiades join forces in this photo taken April 8 at dusk. The two will be even closer on the nights of April 10 and 11.
Contributed / Stellarium

I love easy sights. They balance out the times you have to work hard to see something in the night sky. Of course, it's not really work. Let's call it adventure.

For example, I drove out to a very imperfect sky a couple nights ago to see Mercury. Cirrus clouds were moving in, and I suspected low trees might block the view, but the planet was immediately obvious with the naked eye a full fist above the northwestern horizon. It couldn't have been easier.

Mercury and Venus
Mercury is just a tiny dot (indicated by tick marks) in this wide-angle photo that includes Venus, located two fists (20°) to its upper left. I took the picture from Duluth, Minn., on April 8 around 8:30 p.m. local time.
Contributed / Bob King

I encourage you to give it a try. The best time to watch is from 45 minutes to an hour after sunset. Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the sun (maximum separation) April 11 and will remain fairly easy to see through mid-month.

On the same night I spotted Mercury, Venus shone a little less than 4° below the Pleiades star cluster (Seven Sisters). Both easily fit in the field of view of my 8x40 binoculars. On April 10 Venus will shine even closer to the beloved star cluster — just 2.5° to its south. While you can spot them both with the naked eye, binoculars are definitely the way to go. Wait until you see how many more stars are visible.

Venus meets Pleiades
Venus passes the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) star cluster this week. They'll be closest on Monday night, April 10 (2.5° apart), and nearly as close again April 11. While both are visible with the naked eye, binoculars make the group sparkle and reveal many more stars. The cluster contains some 1,000 confirmed members and lies 444 light-years from Earth.
Contributed / Stellarium

It will also be fun to see how quickly Venus and the cluster separate. Earth's revolution around the sun causes the stars to shift westward over time, making them set four minutes earlier each night. The Pleiades are headed horizon-ward and will exit the stage in a few weeks just like Jupiter did last month. On the other hand, Venus is still moving in the opposite direction up and away from the sun. Planet and cluster will soon part ways, but don't let them do it without first taking a peek.


Pleiades Nebra sky disk
The Nebra sky disk may be the first depiction of the Pleiades, seen as the clump of seven dots above center. It dates back more than 3,600 years.
Contributed / Frank Vincentz, CC BY-SA 4.0

Given their striking appearance it's no surprise that cultures around the world and across time have recognized how special the Pleiades are. The earliest-known depiction of the cluster may appear on the German Bronze Age artifact the Nebra sky disk , which dates to around 1600 B.C. The 12-inch (30-centimeter) diameter bronze disk depicts stars, a lunar crescent, either the sun or full moon and a clump of seven stars believed to represent the Pleiades.

Vatican astronomer to speak

Brother Guy Consolmagno
Brother Guy Consolmagno works in the lab.
Contributed / Robert Macke, CC BY-SA 3.0

Did you know that the Vatican has an observatory and chief astronomer? If you live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul or Duluth area, you'll get to hear him speak in person and via livestream this week. Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory and curator of the Vatican Meteorite Collection , will present at the Bell Museum in Minneapolis on Friday, April 14, from 2:30-3:30 p.m. Central Standard Time. The museum will also livestream the talk to the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus.

Consolmagno is a Jesuit brother, planetary scientist and astronomy popularizer. In a talk titled "Adventures of a Vatican Astronomer," he'll share adventures from his travels to the meteorite fields of east Antarctica to the United Nations and reflect on the role of scientists in today's world. You'll find more information at the Bell Museum website .

"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer and retired photographer for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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