Venus prepares to pass Pleiades

WASHINGTON — Hey, DMV! This weekend we have a sky sight you do not want to miss!

Starting April 10, brilliant and beautiful Venus will pass by the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, star cluster in the western sky after it gets dark.

You do not need any observing aid to see this celestial spectacle — Venus is easily visible and will be just to the left of the Pleiades star cluster. Binoculars will really enhance the view, and I highly recommend using them if you have them.

The light you see in the sky from the sun, moon, planets and stars all travels at 186,000 miles, or 300,000 kilometers, per second. This is the speed limit for light in the universe as determined by Albert Einstein.

The sun is 8 light minutes from earth (93 million miles); the moon is 1.3 light seconds (about 230,000 miles) and the planets are light minutes and light hours from earth, while the stars are light years from us.  A light year is six trillion miles.

From April 10 through April 12, Venus is about 100 million miles from earth, while the Pleiades are 440 light years from you. If you look at your watch when you look at Venus and subtract 9 minutes and 20 seconds, that is the time the reflected sunlight off the cloud tops of Venus left the second planet from the sun. The light from the stars of the Pleiades left in the year 1575.

People with good vision and dark skies can see at least seven stars in the Pleiades, and they form a small dipper. Some people confuse the Pleiades with the much larger Little or Big Dipper constellations in the northern part of the sky. The 1,000-plus stars of the Pleiades star cluster were all born about 100 million years ago from the same huge gas-dust cloud and are still wrapped in that gas and dust. You can see this nebulosity in my picture of the Pleiades.

Enjoy this multiday event and watch Venus move above the Pleiades. This motion in the sky is caused by the movement of Venus and earth in their orbits around the Sun.

This pairing in the sky can be photographed by using a camera preferably mounted on a tripod. Using a starting ISO of 800 and a shutter speed of 2 seconds should get you some good pics. Take several and adjust your settings as needed. Try to avoid any lights that can ruin your shot.

Take pics over the three-day time frame and you will easily be able to see the moment of Venus in the sky.

Good luck and clear skies!

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