Friday, January 27, 2006

March 1, 2001

Hesperus is Phosphorus: The Evening Star is the Morning Star. And so you shall see at the end of this month, as you watch the blazing planet Venus sink into the west behind the setting Sun, but rise in the east in advance of the morning Sun.

How can this be? The main reason is that the inner planet is moving more quickly than we are in our respective orbits around the Sun, thereby changing the relative geometric orientations of the three bodies. Additionally, Venus is currently above the Sun from our point of view, so, like the mast of a ship, the one precedes the appearance of the other and then follows its disappearance.

Since Venus is also approaching a point in its orbit where it stands between the Sun and us, it is coming closer to the Earth and, hence, increasing in angular size in our sky. Another consequence is that Venus is now exhibiting a crescent phase. The combined result is that by midmonth it should be possible to detect the curved shape of Venus’s cloud-covered disc with binoculars, and perhaps even the naked eye.

Spring arrives at 8:31 a.m. on the 20th. A sure sign is that Leo the lion is leaping up from the eastern horizon, no doubt in karmic pursuit of Orion the hunter, who has been pursuing Taurus the bull all winter.

Watch for a gorgeous conjunction of reddish Aldebaran, crescent moon, and brilliant Jupiter on the 29th.

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