Caught by the Bull’s Horn
Sunset reveals Venus ablaze high in the west, shining as bright as she gets at magnitude –4.7. And while the light of a planet is usually steady, but as the Evening Star nears the horizon, she begins to shimmer and dance as her light is refracted by Earth’s atmosphere. The planet is so dazzling that at first glance you could easily mistake her for a passing jetliner or even a UFO. Venus is in fact the Number 1 culprit behind reported sightings.
Like a fall from grace, Venus plummets from her lofty perch in a matter of weeks. But she goes out with a mighty flash, crossing the face of the sun on June 5, a phenomenon that won’t happen again for more than 100 years. This is a sight you won’t want to miss — provided you have the proper eye protection, lest it be the last thing you see. Welders glass will do the trick, or a solar telescope filter. But for the family in the backyard, your best bet are cheap eclipse glasses, like paper 3D glasses. Sets of five sell for under $5 at Amazon.com. Don’t wait!
This week Venus hangs suspended just a few degrees above the second-magnitude star El Nath, the northern horn of Taurus the Bull. Meaning butting one in Arabic, El Nath is also called Beta Tauri as the constellation’s second-brightest star after Aldebaran, the bull’s blood-red eye. El Nath, by comparison, shines blue-white.
El Nath also has the distinction of marking the anti-center of our galaxy. Imagine staring into the dense heart of the Milky Way, the galaxy’s center. Now turn your imaginary gaze 180 degrees and you’ll be staring at El Nath — or rather three degrees to its east. This is the outer fringe of the Milky Way, as you see by its thin pink band in the northwest of the chart at right. Only 130 light-years distant, El Nath points to the galaxy’s anti center, which is tens of thousands of light-years away.