As soon as darkness falls on this Wednesday evening, October 16, look for the brilliant planet Venus and the star Antares to pair up together in the southwest sky. Venus is the brighter of these two luminaries by leaps and bounds. Venus ranks as the third-brightest celestial body, after the sun and moon, and outshines Antares by over one hundred times.
Of course, Venus and Antares are nowhere close in space. They just happen to reside along the same line of sight. The reflected light from Venus takes about 6.5 light-minutes to reach Earth whereas the light from Antares must travel some 550 light-years before hitting Earth.
If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you may also see two other worlds – the planets Saturn and Mercury – popping out beneath Venus and Antares at late dusk or early evening. At northerly latitudes, Saturn and Mercury sit too close to the glow of sunset, and moreover, set too soon after sundown to be visible at temperate and far northern latitudes.
Venus is a planet that is a touch smaller than Earth, whereas Antares is a supergiant red star having the volume of hundreds of millions of suns. This star’s sheer size makes Antares a first-magnitude star in our sky, despite its great distance from Earth.
If you have difficulty seeing Antares next to Venus, and have binoculars, by all means aim them at Venus to spot nearby Antares. Moreover, Venus and Antares will occupy the same binocular field for the next several days.
Seek for Venus and Antares low in the southwest shortly after sunset, before they follow the sun beneath the horizon at early evening. Be sure to spot these luminaries on Wednesday, October 16, when Venus and Antares are their closest on the sky’s dome.