Venus meets Uranus
By John Hlynialuk
This winter’s evening “star,” the brilliant planet Venus, continues to dazzle in the western sky as it gradually works its way to its conjunction (close approach) to Jupiter in the middle of March. That will be especially noticeable because the two planets are so bright. Before that, a much closer approach of Venus to another gas giant occurs the evening February 9, but this one will require binoculars or a small telescope. However, I cannot recall such a close approach of these two planets in my many years of stargazing. Steady the binos on a tripod or fence post and look for a pale bluish starlike dot to the left of Venus.
These two worlds are at vastly different distances from us. Around February 9, Venus is 157 million kilometres distant while Uranus is over 3 billion kilometres. The light coming to us from Uranus takes almost 3 hours to get here. Compare this to light from Venus which takes a little over 8 minutes, about the same as the light from our sun.
Venus is bright for two reasons. It is relatively nearby (only the Moon is closer), and we are seeing sunlight reflected from its thick atmosphere of white clouds. The atmosphere of Uranus is methane and ammonia haze which is not as reflective as Venus’ clouds. You will know you Uranus by its pale bluish colour. This once-in-a-lifetime event. Clear skies!
John Hlynialuk is an experienced amateur astronomer based near Owen Sound, Ontario