That especially bright star in the evening sky of late is actually the planet Venus. This evening, it will begin to cross the beautiful Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster. To wit:
This digital sky map illustrates the path of the inner planet as the beautiful conjunction evolves, showing its position on the sky over the next few days. The field of view shown is appropriate for binocular equipped skygazers but the star cluster and planet are easily seen with the naked-eye. As views from Earth (top pic, 2004), Venus again passed in front of the Seven Sisters (pic 2) 8 years ago, and will again 8 years hence. In fact, orbiting the Sun 13 Venus years are almost equal to 8 years on planet Earth. So we can expect our sister planet to visit nearly the same place in our sky every 8 years.
(Image: David Cortner, Digital image: Fred Espenak (Bifrost Astronomical Observatory)
Behold: the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters – proof that the longer you stare at the sky, the more insanely detailed it becomes. To wit:
Long duration camera exposures reveal an intricate network of interwoven interstellar dust and gas that was previously invisible not only to the eye but to lower exposure images. In the featured wide and deep mosaic, the dust stands out spectacularly, with the familiar Pleaides star cluster visible as the blue patch near the top of the image. Blue is the color of the Pleiades’ most massive stars, whose distinctive light reflects from nearby fine dust. On the upper left is the Hyades star cluster surrounding the bright, orange, foreground-star Aldebaran. Red glowing emission nebula highlight the bottom of the image, including the curving vertical red ribbon known as the Eridanus Loop. The pervasive dust clouds appear typically in light brown and are dotted with unrelated stars.
(image: Hirofumi Okubo)
Behold: M45 – the lovely reflection nebulae of the Pleiades star cluster, 400 light years away. To wit:
It lies in the night sky toward the constellation Taurus and the Orion Arm of our Milky Way Galaxy. The sister stars and cosmic dust cloud are not related though, they just happen to be passing through the same region of space. Known since antiquity as a compact grouping of stars, Galileo first sketched the star cluster viewed through his telescope with stars too faint to be seen by eye. Charles Messier recorded the position of the cluster as the 45th entry in his famous catalog of things which are not comets. In Greek myth, the Pleiades were seven daughters of the astronomical Titan Atlas and sea-nymph Pleione. Their parents names are included in the cluster’s nine brightest stars. This deep and wide telescopic image spans over 20 light-years across the Pleides star cluster.
(Image: Adam Block, Steward Observatory, University of Arizona)