Washington: Next week, Venus will exhibit a remarkable celestial display when it shines near the well-known Pleiades star cluster in the western sky on Tuesday (April 3).
As the bright planets Venus and Jupiter go their own separate ways after their stunning tryst in mid-March, Venus continues to grow ever-brighter as the northern spring evenings warm up.
The planet seems to gleam almost like a sequined showgirl, hovering in the west-northwest sky high above the setting sun.
While our “sister world” Venus has attracted a lot of attention from its recent displays with Jupiter and a lovely crescent moon, come Tuesday night it will have a rendezvous with another noteworthy celestial landmark, popularly known in their own right as the “Seven Sisters” or the Pleiades.
There is nothing else like the Pleiades star cluster in the sky. Few observers can look very long at the night sky at this time of year without noticing the Pleiades stars and wondering what they really are.
The traditional Greek legend for the Seven Sisters — as this cluster has long been known — is that they are the daughters of Atlas and Pleione.
Their father, Atlas, rebelled against Zeus, the king of the gods, who retaliated by sentencing him to forever holding up the heavens on his shoulders.
This so grieved the sisters that Zeus placed them in the heavens so that they could be close to their father.
Interestingly, widely separated and totally different cultures have always described the Pleiades as the “Seven Sisters,” “Seven Maidens,” or “Seven Little Girls.” Yet, only six stars are readily visible to most observers.
Those with more acute eyesight may glimpse up to 12 under good conditions. But why this cluster has been cited by more than one early people as having seven members remains a mystery.
It will, however, be a bit more difficult to see them on Tuesday night, since brilliant Venus with its great brilliance will nearly overpower the star cluster.
On that night, our sister planet will pass just a half-degree (the apparent width of the moon) to the south of the Seven Sisters. The planet is 160 times brighter than the star cluster.
The very best views will be with binoculars or a small telescope, with Venus glowing like a steady white diamond below and to the left of cluster; a very beautiful sight indeed!
In a telescope, Venus currently appears as a dazzling silver-white almost “half moon” phase, but in the nights to come it will gradually become a thick crescent while growing larger as it swings around its orbit closer to Earth.
First Published: Sunday, April 01, 2012, 11:12