This week, a delicate crescent moon shines near the brilliant Venus and the lovely Pleiades star cluster. In addition, the fading planet Mars drifts past the pretty Beehive star cluster.
A thin moon near Venus and the Pleiades: On Thursday, you must look at about 8:30 p.m. and have an unobstructed view down very low to the west-northwest sky - a little to the right of where the sun went down - to see this sight.
You may actually detect the bright point of light that is Venus first. Then look to the lower right of Venus for a glimpse of the pale, exquisitely fine, fingernail-shaped moon crescent. If you have binoculars and the night is very clear, you may even be able to see, just below the moon, the now dim point of light that is the planet Mercury.
On Friday night, the slightly thicker crescent moon will be located fairly far straight above Venus. The Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, star cluster will shine close to and straight above the moon. You may be able to see the cluster with an unaided eye clearly by about 9 p.m., when the sky has darkened. But for the best view of the Pleiades in the lingering traces of twilight and fairly low in the sky, binoculars would be a big help.
On Saturday night, the lunar crescent is even thicker and brighter and shines a moderate distance to the upper right of the bright star Aldebaran, which marks the eye of Taurus the Bull.
Mars goes by the Beehive one more time: Back in January, Earth was at its closest to Mars and the planet gleamed almost as bright as the brightest star. Now, Mars has faded greatly. But it still rivals some of the bright stars of the setting winter constellations and spring ones.
Between Thursday and Sunday, Mars will drift slowly past one of the most famous of all star clusters, M44 - better known as the Beehive Cluster.
Even if you are many miles from city lights, you will need quite a clear sky to see M44 as a fuzzy patch of light with unaided eyes. Binoculars and small telescopes, however, reveal the patch to be a busy nest of many stars close together. In these optical instruments, the fire-colored Mars' third and final pass of the Beehive in recent months will look best. Find Mars by looking extremely high in the southeast sky at about 9 to 10 p.m. for a slightly orange point of light that shines more steadily than the twinkling stars.
A trail of beauty: A week ago yesterday, space shuttle Discovery lifted off from Florida just before dawn. Observers were treated to one of the most beautiful launches ever. As the spacecraft zoomed away, its exhaust trial, slowly looping and drifting on high-altitude winds, was lit by the sun before sunrise had come to ground level. The result was an amazingly beautiful artificial noctilucent cloud. For images of this wondrous sight, check out the archive pages for April 6 and 7 at:
Fred Schaaf is a local author and astronomer. He can be reached at: