The planet Venus is just shootin' the bull this week. Tonight, in fact, it's shootin' between the celestial bull's two most prominent features: its orange eye and its sparkling shoulder.
Venus is the "evening star," so you won't have any trouble finding it. It pops into view fairly low in the west just minutes after sunset.
Venus is charging eastward against the background of stars right now -- the result of the relative motions of Venus and Earth in their orbits around the Sun. And if you look carefully, you can see the shift in Venus's position from night to night.
Tonight, it's about halfway between the star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster.
Aldebaran, which is to the upper left of Venus, represents the bull's eye. It's a stellar giant, which means that it's nearing the end of its life. Changes in its core have caused its outer layers to puff up like a balloon. As Aldebaran expanded, its surface got cooler, so the star shines bright orange.
The Pleiades, to the lower right of Venus, is a family of hundreds of stars. All of them are much younger than the Sun, and they travel through space as a group. A half dozen of its stars are visible to the unaided eye, but binoculars reveal many more -- turning the bull's shoulder into a buzzing swarm of stars.
Venus will move up past Aldebaran over the next three nights. After that, it'll continue its eastward sprint, traveling up the bull's horns during the first half of May.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010
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