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June 2002:Venus by Night & Day!


The first star to come out on June evenings is no true star at all, but the brilliant planet Venus. It lights up the western sky, setting some two and one-half hours after the Sun. Incidentally, the planet Jupiter pairs up with Venus during late May and early June, though it fades from sight a few weeks thereafter.
Our feature planet, however, adorns the evening sky till autumn, outshining every heavenly body of nighttime, save for the Moon. It's so bright that it's been known to cast a shadow on a moonless night. What's more, Venus can actually be seen in broad daylight, if you know just where to look.
After nightfall look east, or about-face of Venus, for a small yet distinctive constellation: Delphinus the dolphin. Glowing softly, like a band of fireflies, it lies to the left of sparkling-white Altair, the bottom star of the summer triangle.
On the night of June 20, note Delphinus' position relative to the landscape, using a tree or some such reference. Twelve hours later -- during the daylight hours on June 21 -- look for Venus in this general area. Have someone shade out the Sun for you, then scan with binoculars. Although sharp-eyed people can see Venus at daytime with no optical aid whatsoever, binoculars make the quest ever so much easier.
This trick works because Venus on this date is in conjunction with the Beehive star cluster in the constellation Cancer. The Beehive and Delphinus stand opposite each other in the sky, and trade places every twelve hours.
But you needn't wait till June 20 to see the beautiful Beehive star cluster, the crown jewel of Cancer. It appears as a faint blur to Venus' upper left, a smudge that binoculars transform into a sparkling array of stars! On the evening of June 14, look for the Beehive between the Moon and Venus.
Night by night, Venus gains ground on the star cluster; and starting middle June, Venus and the Beehive occupy the same binocular field of view.

Copyright 2002 by Bruce McClure


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