Looking Up: So Close, So Far

Nov 12, 2018

You may have seen this scene in November of 2017. Venus and Spica will again be near one another this November (2018)
Credit earthsky.org

This week on Looking Up Hal speaks of night sky wonders both near and far. 

There are lots and lots of amazing and wonderful things in the Colorado night sky. Some make you say “wow” because of how beautiful they are and others because of the wonder of what you are actually seeing. And if you are an early riser this Wednesday, November 14th, you get to see something that is both – a pair of bright and beautiful objects very close to each other.

That morning, if you look to the east, you’ll see the third brightest thing in the sky, after the Sun and the Moon, the glorious planet Venus. And right next to it, less than a degree away – roughly the width of your pinkie finger held at arm’s length – is the wonderful star Spica.

Venus shines brilliantly because the planet-wide white clouds of sulfuric acid and carbon dioxide reflect much of the Sun’s light back out into space, but not enough gets reflected to keep Venus from becoming a horrific place. The surface temperatures on Venus can reach 900 degrees. Venus is also bright because it is close, only about 160 million miles away.

Spica, on the other hand, is about 250 light years from Earth. And it’s not even a star, it’s at least two stars, so close together that they orbit each other every 4 days. And there may well be two or three more stars connected to those two by gravity. So when you wake up, take a peek out the window at two really bright and really interesting wonders of our night sky, and marvel at the wonder of the celestial dance.

If you’d like to take a closer look Venus, Spica, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.