04 October 2010

Look Out the Window

The view from my backyard this evening.
Remember that first star you used to wish on as a kid?  The evening star?  This is it... only (and get ready to impress your kids/friends/unsuspecting strangers) it's not a star.  It's Venus!  Ta da!

Go ahead, roll your eyes.  I know you knew but you have to admit... it's a cool picture.  My backyard rocks.

Depending on the timing, Venus can conversely be the last "star" to disappear in the morning.  Historically, Pythagoras (yes, the triangles guy) is credited as the first to figure out that the morning and evening star were the same heavenly body.  Venus also has phases, just like the moon.  Galileo was the first to figure that out, courtesy of his improved telescope.  Today, you can see the phases with a pretty cheap telescope or even a pair of binoculars.  How cool is that?  And how crazy is it that I don't own either!?

You can actually see Mercury with the unaided eye as well, but only if you have a fairly clear horizon (it's visible above the horizon just before sunrise and just after sunset) and then only for a few weeks a year.  To see another planet with the naked eye, check out the night sky after the crescent Moon rises on the 10th.  The red dot off of its bottom right quadrant is Mars.

For stargazing tips, check out StarDate or better yet, Space.  

One last astronomy geek out moment: this month is a great time to see my favorite constellation, the Pleiades cluster.  You've seen it before... it's the background image of this blog.

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