Occasionally there are a few sky moments inspiring even the casual earthling to look up beyond his or planetary abode on which we ride. This past week’s conjunction of Venus and Jupiter couldn’t help but gain a big following, the pair glowing bright and so near one another in the western sky after dusk.

Occasionally there are a few sky moments inspiring even the casual earthling to look up beyond his or planetary abode on which we ride. This past week’s conjunction of Venus and Jupiter couldn’t help but gain a big following, the pair glowing bright and so near one another in the western sky after dusk.

Don’t stop looking just because the planets are now farther apart. There is a host to see every night that is clear. Even under a bright city sky, the moon, bright planets and brightest of stars punctuate the urban glow, reminding us that their light, spanning light years in the case of the stars, are brighter still.

From a semi-rural sky or if you are really fortunate, a dark pristine site, the abundance of heavenly orbs rule the limitless ceiling over our heads, an infusion of starlight bright and dim like some salt shaker dumped out on a black surface.

Who can but look up, and be inspired? Beware lest we give too much honor to what our senses perceive. Some will attest that the creation before us is the handiwork of One who put it in place on purpose and with great care. Others who are satisfied with only the view before them, can at least agree that our cup runs over with wonder at the Cosmos.

Aside from brilliant planet pairing, the public at times is alerted to the sky by the very rare, brilliant comet, an eclipse, an unusual meteor shower or rare display of Northern Lights. Note, most of the universe is more subtle. It is all too easy to hide the starlight of lights years away by light or air pollution, or natural cloud and haze. For the latter, we must be patient. For the former, we hope we can eventually encourage society to take more thought before wasting the night sky with unneeded glare aimed upwards.

Comet Garradd

Meanwhile, there is a dim comet within reach of your binoculars if the sky is reasonably dark. New moon is on March 22, which means for the coming week, our evening skies will avoid moonlight. Comet Garradd shines at nearly +7th magnitude and appears as a small hazy patch in binoculars, not far from the bowl of the Big Dipper.

No comet tail is noticeable with binoculars. Note how the hazy patch is brighter in center; within the central area is the comet nucleus, made of ice and dust.

This comet was visible in our evening sky last fall and is continuing its slow trek away from the sun. If this comet were much closer, it would undoubtedly be a major sky spectacle. Once you find it, look each night and trace its slow movement up in the northern sky. On Friday night, March 16, the comet is only a quarter degree from the star Lambda Draconis (”Gianfar”), the end of the tail of the constellation Draco the Dragon. During the evening this week, this star is immediately left of the top bowl stars of the Big Dipper, about the same length away as the space between the Dipper stars.

We close with comments sent by a reader, Ed Wesely, describing seeing the planets Venus and Jupiter, as well as the bright reddish Mars in the east, and thinking of the great Danish astronomer of the late 1500s, Tycho Brahe.

I don’t know a lot about Tyco Brahe, but watching Venus and Jupiter, with Mars rising in the east,

I thought of  him charting the night sky from his cold observatory – [condemning] the clouds of northern Europe  and fretting about late winter weather as some of us did tonight.

Planetary motion must have especially intrigued him, with its challenge to make mathematical sense of conjunctions such as this one.

Putting myself in his shoes, I tried to think about these planets as he might have in the late 16th century – before the day of telescopes.

And touching hands with his time cloaked the sky with mystery in ways I seldom experience. 

- Ed Wesely, Damascus, Pa.

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Keep Looking Up!