This week, in the evening, brilliant Venus will form a fairly short, striking line with the two bright stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux. But the real climax comes Monday, when a lovely crescent moon shows up just below Venus.
Venus lines up with the twins: Evening twilight is very long at the latitude of New Jersey in June. But Venus is so bright that you should be able to find it very soon after sunset. The planet will glitter into view not far to the upper left of where the sun went down. It will be a lone splendor for quite a while. But by perhaps 9 p.m. or a little later, if you look carefully not far to the upper right of Venus these next few nights, you will see Castor and Pollux start to flicker into view. By 9:30 or 10 p.m. the two stars should be visible to the unaided eye as long as the sky is not too thick with summer haze.
Castor is in reality a system of at least six stars orbiting one another and going through space together (a good amateur telescope can usually split Castor into two bright, close-together points of light). Slightly orange Pollux is believed to possess at least one planet. But whether or not you have a telescope or ponder the true nature of these famous stars, the sight of them lining up with Venus on Friday evening should be beautiful.
Actually, the slightly crooked line the three will form Thursday and Saturday also should be impressive. But on Friday, Venus will be a little farther from Pollux than Pollux is from Castor, and the whole arrangement should form a straight line no longer than the width of your fist at arm's length.
And then the moon: On Sunday, if you look well before 9:30 p.m. and have an unobstructed view down to near the west-northwest horizon, you should see a very slender crescent moon far below Pollux and Castor. Then after sunset Monday, a slightly thicker moon will glow quite close below blazing Venus.
Bonus duo: Last week, Mars came close in the sky to the bright star Regulus, heart of Leo the Lion. Well, if you look pretty far to the upper left from Venus these next few nights, you will see Mars still very close to the similarly bright star. This close pairing of modestly bright gems will be quite noticeable all week once the sky is dark enough, even though Mars is pulling away from Regulus. They will not have another good pairing with each other in the evening sky until July 29, 2021.
Giants at dawn: If you are an experienced amateur astronomer with a telescope, do not forget that today and all this week, the dawn sky will be blessed with a very close meeting of bright Jupiter and its fellow giant planet Uranus.
Fred Schaaf is a local author and astronomer. He can be reached at: