April 17 – 30, 2017
Mount Washington — Amateur astronomers are among the most knowledgeable and dedicated students of astronomy. True to the root of the word “amateur” (from the French and Italian ‘amatore,’ with its root in the Latin ‘amare,’ to love,) they are, in my experience, genuinely enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and love of the universe. For this purpose, amateur astronomy associations abound. It was through the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomers Association (5 A’s) members’ exchange that I received Sean Marien’s photograph of crescent phase planet Venus. I contacted him to ask for permission to publish his image. Last weekend, we met at the quintessential gathering of sky and space enthusiasts, the Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) in Suffern, New York.
Sean Marien, whose day job is as an IT architect, photographed Venus last month, a few days before the Evening Star disappeared from prominence in the west at dusk. For most of us, the brilliant planet was already obscured by the sun’s glare. There’s much to learn from his description of his experience on March 19: “This afternoon Lauren and I were able to view a 2.2 percent illuminated Venus from our back deck. It was a bit tricky to line up because Venus is less than 10 degrees away from the Sun. Venus was easily visible in both the 10x50s [binoculars] and a 3-inch refractor [telescope] and occasionally popped with a second or two of clear viewing. Even in the binoculars Venus was very clearly a thin crescent. Very cool.”
The door that opens to the courtyard where NEAF’s daytime Star Party takes place was stuck; while I hesitated, a man appeared and pushed it and, as the door swung open, he said, “Come see Venus!” A few yards ahead, an easel held a poster on which was written, in iridescent blue letters, “Venus.” Beside the sign was a telescope. It was about 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, April 9. I looked up toward the sun in the clear sky and was baffled for a moment. I thought, “How can we see Venus in broad daylight?” I was guided to the telescope where, with my eye to the eyepiece, a delicate, crescent-phase Venus appeared. I was looking through Earth’s atmosphere. Venus was ahead of the sun, leading it into the sky.
Without the aid of a telescope, early risers can observe Venus as the planet climbs above the eastern horizon at first light and as it rises into the twilit sky. Looking from an unobstructed view, the planet rises at 4:36 a.m. tomorrow, the 18th, and 4:11 a.m. on the 30th. For naked-eye stargazers, the goddess planet looks like a brilliant morning star, not a crescent. It is best to begin to look an hour before sunrise. Once you know where to look, it will surprise you even as sunrise approaches – 30 minutes before sunrise in very clear skies. Sunup is at 6:09 a.m. today and 5:50 a.m. on the 30th.
On the 22nd, the waning moon is above and to the right of Venus and, on the 23rd, the moon is directly beside the planet. On the 24th, the disappearing filament of a crescent moon is below Venus.
Catch falling stars overnight the 21st – 22nd. Lyrid meteors, about a dozen or two per hour, are predicted to peak before dawn on the 22nd.
Opportunities to Participate:
Astronomy clubs in Massachusetts http://www.go-astronomy.com/astro-clubs-state.php?State=MA
Star Gazers on PBS https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/news-display.cfm?News_ID=449