Tomorrow morning before dawn if you face east you’ll see a hugely bright planet. That’s Venus. Not as obvious but very close to the planet will shine the star Regulus, the brightest star in Leo and notable for its position at the end of the well-known asterism called the Sickle of Leo. I also like to refer to it as the “backwards question mark.” Regulus means “little king” in Latin and refers to this star’s kingly importance in ancient times.
Venus will be a little less than one degree (two full moon diameters) to the right of Regulus Tuesday, but on Wednesday morning their separation tightens up to a miniscule 0.1 degrees or close enough to make it tricky to split the two with the naked eye. That’s due in part because of their close separation but also because of Venus’ overwhelming brilliance. Binoculars should show them as a beautiful “double star”. Depending on your time zone, the two will be up to a couple tenths of a degree farther apart when they’re up for easy viewing. In Duluth, Minn. 0.2 degrees will separate them at 5:30 a.m. (CDT)
By Thursday, their separation will widen again to one degree and keep on spreading. It’s not too surprising that Regulus should get a visit from a planet, since it lies almost exactly on the ecliptic, the path followed across the sky by the sun, moon and planets. Venus has approached even more closely. On July 7, 1959 it occulted or covered up the star for a brief time and will do so again on October 1, 2044. I have my doubts I’ll be around for that rare event, so I hope my younger readers will make an effort to see it.
Those equipped with a small telescope can see Venus and Regulus couple up in the same field of view. Regulus will shimmer like the star it is; Venus will look like a miniature gibbous moon.
Had there been no moon, last night’s aurora would have been a spectacle. Moonlight washed out its brilliance but the tall rays and movement were still a sight to see. I hope some of you were able to get a peek. The display was unusual in that it appeared in brief, bright eruptions instead of cresting to a peak after a long steady rise. Chances will still be good tonight for a minor display. I’ll post an update this evening.
* UPDATE 9:40 p.m. (CDT) Monday Oct. 1: Very quiet, no auroras at mid-northern latitudes
* UPDATE 11:30 p.m. : Still quiet, no lights