There is friction, however. The moon is full at the same time, which makes it difficult to see an ad unless it gets brighter than expected. On these moonlit nights, passionate aurora seekers often take photos in the hope of capturing the green glow, even if it is barely visible to the eye.
If the thought of missing out on the green turns you blue, take heart. Spring is a busy time for Aurors with more activity, predicted to be April 9th and April 15-16, when the moon will be absent. If you haven’t seen the Northern Lights before, stay tuned!
Venus and geese are reflected in a pond at dusk in March 2010. (Bob king)
Amateur astronomy is all about patience. You’d think after nearly 60 years of staring and planetary gazing, I would be the most patient person on earth. No, I get nervous like everyone else. In fact, I’m itching to see Venus again. It went missing in action last month and is hiding in the sun glare. On March 26th, the radiant Goddess of Beauty will be in superior connection with the sun and then slowly return to the evening sky.
The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) took this photo of Venus on March 25 with a special mask to block out the sun’s glare. The planet is almost lined up under the sun, which happens on March 26th. Take a look at the diagram below to see where Venus is in its orbit at this point. (NASA / ESA)
Venus has two types of conjunctions, or close alignments, with the Sun as viewed from Earth. When in a superior conjunction, the planet is on the opposite or the other side of the sun. From our point of view, sunlight illuminates the entire vicinity of the planet and looks like a tiny full moon when viewed through a telescope. This phase is difficult to see because you are looking almost directly at the sun.
A little more than 9 months later, Venus swings almost directly between the earth and the sun if the conjunction is inferior. From our point of view, it again coincides with our star, and the planet disappears from view in the sunlight. Through binoculars or a small telescope, it looks like a thin crescent moon just before and after the conjunction because the angle that Venus makes with the sun is so narrow that the sun only illuminates its curved edge.
Venus achieves a superior connection with the Sun this week as it transitions from the morning to the evening sky (left side of the graph). Its phase changes slowly from full to half with increasing apparent distance from the sun. On October 29th, the planet will appear furthest from the sun at dusk and then align with it again next January with an inferior conjunction. After that, it moves to the morning sky. (Bob king)
Immediately after the superior conjunction on Friday (March 26th), Venus moves into the evening sky. Yay! Whoa, take it easy. You and I won’t see it in the northwest sky until early May, about half an hour after sunset. Why the wait? Venus is on the opposite side of the sun from Earth, so it’s really far from us. A distant planet appears to move more slowly than a nearby planet, just as an airborne jet crawls across the sky compared to taking the same jet off the runway up close.
This is why Venus takes its sweet time to move far enough away from the sun that we can finally see it at dusk. Watch it slowly rise from the horizon in the summer months and reach its greatest apparent distance from the sun in October. During this time, the phase of the planet changes from full to gibbous to half the angle the planet makes with the sun, and the earth changes as it accelerates around its orbit.
An inferior conjunction will occur in January 2022 when Venus passes to the right (west) of the Sun and returns to the morning sky. In contrast to the transition from morning to evening, this transition is quick, as the planet is almost 6 1/2 times closer to us than it would be in a superior conjunction. Venus quickly leaves its glare and reappears at dawn within a few weeks.
All planets have their own individual cycles. Getting to know them is one of the simple joys of gazing into the sky.
“Astro” Bob King is a freelance writer for the Duluth News Tribune. Read more about his work at duluthnewstribune.com/astrobob.