The brightest planet Venus has been gone from Earth’s sky for a couple of months. That’s because it passed behind the sun in early June, and it’s been traveling on the far side of the solar system, lost in the sun’s glare to all earthly observers. In mid-July 2016 it became visible to the eye once more. This video tracks Venus from when it reappeared again in our evening sky in July 2016 all the way to April 2017.Moon and Venus in the evening sky forty-five minutes after sunset from July 2016 through April 2017 from LarryKoehn on Vimeo.
As the autumn equinox approaches we have been acclimating to earlier nightfall and later daybreak. The equinox will occur on September 22nd. Our nearly omnipresent summer sun is leaving us but provides adventure and mystery by lighting the increasing darkness with its reflected light that comes to our eyes from planets and the moon. Further, our opportunities in the dark seasons are boundless when we gaze up to the stars that are suns scattered far beyond our solar system, suns that compose the Milky Way galaxy of which our solar system is a part. In astronomy circles, there is grave concern that interest in getting to know the night sky is especially low among young people. A sense of community – ecology – that includes our place in the cosmos is vital to our survival.
Many of us missed the August 27 conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. In my location, a bank of deep grey clouds hung above the western horizon in the exact spot where the planets met and set. During the first week of September it is still worth looking for Jupiter: I find that binoculars are necessary to locate it in early twilight, within about 20 minutes of sunset. While Jupiter is disappearing from the night sky, Venus is entering as the Evening Star, the third brightest star-like object in Earth’s skies, after the sun and moon. See http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/venus-july-2016-to-april-2017
Thanks to Kevin Collins, an amateur astronomer and telescope maker, we have a second chance at seeing the conjunction – through his photograph – and an opportunity to inspire youth as well as adults through his enthusiasm for astronomy.
I met Collins when he was president of the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomers Association (5A’s) and I was attending a 5A’s observing (with telescopes) meeting open to the general public at the Amherst College Observatory in Massachusetts. He related to me that an interest in mechanics and optics led him to telescope-making while in high school. Observing the night sky and learning about telescopes from that point culminated in his building a 20-inch reflector telescope in 2007. Kevin recounted, “The 20 inch project also provided the opportunity for me, my father, and my brother to all work on a project together in our adult lives…..an experience I will cherish forever.” That night in Amherst I experienced a memorable view of Saturn with its phenomenal rings through his telescope, which he had positioned, along with others, beside the observatory for the meeting.
Collins was president of the 5A’s for four years, out of his desire to bring together people of similar interests to enjoy the hobby and gratitude to this community of amateur astronomers that was significant in the development of his interest and involvement with amateur astronomy early on. For information about the club, go to http://amherstastronomy.org/
The Full Harvest Moon occurs on Friday, September 16
The Amateur Astronomers Association of New York conducts a wide variety of programs open to the public at many New York City locations: go to http://www.aaa.org/