Reach for the Stars…Er, the Planets

When I was in grade school, I wanted to be an astronaut. This was followed by a brief desire to be be an aerospace engineer who designed the next space shuttle, which was quickly replaced by a desire to be President of the United States. Needless to say, none of those dreams lasted. I don’t like heights, I’m terrible at math, and being president of College Democrats in college left me so burnt out that I could have screamed.

But, regardless of the fact that my dreams of outer space have waned, I still love the stars.

I mentioned earlier this week that we’ve had some amazing weather in Ohio — it’s been in the low 70s for several days and I’ve been living in my flip flops. Because of this, I haven’t been running from my car to the house because of the cold at night, and I’ve actually had the time to turn my eyes to the sky and take in the stars.

Believe me, I’m no expert on the night sky — I usually rely on my Dad to point constellations and planets out to me. But, over the last couple nights, I’ve noticed something. There are two extremely bright stars located very close to one another in the Western sky. With the rudimentary knowledge that I have, I figured at least one was probably a planet, but which one I didn’t know.

After a little Googling, I found my answer:

It’s not one, but two planets!

This week, Jupiter and Venus reached their peak for the year in proximity to each other in the night sky. In the photograph above, taken in France several days ago, Jupiter (on the right) and Venus (on the left) were virtually directly across from one another in the sky.

As of tonight, March 16th, the planets have begun to drift away from one another, but they are still very close together and very bright — particularly Venus which is often the brightest object in the sky.

This is roughly what they looked like tonight:

 

Jupiter and Venus are visible for about 4 hours following sunset. If you are having trouble locating them, look for the brightest object in the sky — Venus. It’s hard to miss. Venus is so bright that it looks like the headlight of a car shining at you from space.

According to Earthsky.org, March 2012 is one of the best months ever to view the five planets (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury) which are visible to the naked eye.

Next Sunday, March 25th, the Moon will enter into Venus and Jupiter’s dance:

Take some time this week, look up at the night sky. Consider the immense universe we live in and the beauty it contains.

Plus,  it’ll be awhile until this sight comes around so brilliantly again. Although Venus and Jupiter come close to one another in our sky roughly ever 13 months, next year when they appear in May 2013, they’ll only remain visible for 1 hour before setting below the horizon.