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Venus in the Beehive

June 7, 2015

Venus is about to tangle with a beehive. The brilliant “evening star” is moving toward the Beehive star cluster. It’s a few degrees away tonight, but will pass within a degree or so of the cluster’s center next week.

The Beehive consists of about a thousand stars. The biggest and heaviest of them congregate at the middle of the cluster. Many of those stars are easy to see through binoculars or a small telescope. But most of the stars outside that compact core are small and faint, so it takes a lot more optical firepower to see them.

The cluster is about 600 million years old — billions of years younger than the Sun. Yet many of the bright stars in the center of the Beehive are already nearing the ends of their lives. They’re more massive than the Sun, so they’ve burned through the nuclear fuel in their cores more quickly. Some of them have puffed up to giant proportions, which is why they shine so brightly.

Fairly soon, though, those stars will shed their outer layers, leaving behind only their faint, dead cores — depriving the Beehive of much of its luster.

For now, look for the Beehive a few degrees to the upper left of Venus beginning about an hour after sunset. Under especially dark skies, it’s visible to the unaided eye as a faint, hazy smudge of light. Binoculars reveal much more of its luster. And keep an eye on them as Venus moves closer to the Beehive over the next few nights. It’ll be closest at the end of next week.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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