If you look to the West at sunset this evening, April 3, 2012, you will see Venus passing through the Pleiades cluster of stars also known as “The Seven Sisters”. The Pleiades are usually best seen out of the corner of your eye, but when Venus joins the cluster, it will look like a supernova.
NASA scientist Dr. Tony Phillips describes the meeting as, “When Venus joins them in conjunction, it will look like a supernova has gone off inside the cluster.”
With the naked eye Venus, the third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon, will appear to move into the cloudy patch that is the cluster of Pleiades or “The Seven Sisters.”
The Pleiades are a cluster of young stars and are 400 light years away. They formed about 100 million years ago from a collapsing cloud of interstellar gas. The biggest and brightest members are blue-white and about five times wider than our own sun.
NASA scientist Dr. Tony Phillips says this is “a rare sunset conjunction. If you have binoculars, it will enhance your viewing of this even more! Venus passes through the Pleiades in this way about once every 8 years.”
According to a NASA article on April 2, 2012, Venus Invades the Pleiades, “Look west at sunset for Venus–it’s the brightest thing around–then scan the area using binoculars. The conjunction will be immediately clear. The best evening to look is Tuesday, April 3rd, when the brilliant planet glides just south of the dipper’s bowl. Venus exits by the handle on Wednesday, April 4th.”
The NASA article adds, “Because of their distance, about 400 light years away, the Pleiades are near the limit of naked-eye visibility. Venus’s thick clouds reflect so much sunlight, the planet outshines every thing in the night sky except the Moon. Strangely, though, the Pleiades do not look puny in comparison, just delicately beautiful.”