Stargazers get a treat on the evenings of April 10-12, 2015 as brilliant Venus passes within 2.1º of the beautiful Pleiades star cluster in the western sky after sunset. Shining at magnitude -4.1 for most of the month, Venus is easy to find high above the western horizon as the Sun goes down. It outshines every object in the sky except for the Sun and Moon.
Venus drifts eastward each day and continues to rise higher above the horizon until early June. The planet sneaks up on the Pleiades from below on the days before closest approach. The planet and star cluster are easily visible without optical aid, though a pair of binoculars or wide-field low-power telescope will give a better view. The bright planet will almost overwhelm the fainter and delicate star cluster, especially before the sky completely darkens. The close proximity of these contrasting objects presents a superb photo-op.
A quickly moving inner planet, Venus presents plenty of drama and beauty for stargazers as it slowly cycles back and forth into the morning and evening sky over the months. While Venus often passes bright stars and the Moon as it moves along the ecliptic, its most dramatic encounter in recent years was its transit across the face of the Sun on June 5, 2012. This was the last such transit in our lifetimes. The next occur in 2117 and 2125. If you missed this incredible event a few years ago, never fear, Slooh had comprehensive coverage of the 2012 transit of Venus. The video is available on the Slooh website for members who wish to revisit this epic event.