A focus on the strange Evening Star

This weekend – Friday and Saturday night, June 16 and 17 – Venus will hover near the crescent Moon. (Photo by Jacob Spinks)

Everyone has noticed it: It’s Venus, the Evening Star. The past couple of months, it’s that brilliant “star” in the northwest the first few hours after sunset. It’s not high up, but it’s not too low either, so it’s not readily blocked by houses and hills. It’s brighter than any star, and simply dazzling.

It’s also in a strange place. Venus has been visiting the most northerly part of the zodiac – Taurus and now Gemini – which places it strikingly to the right of where the Sun set. But keep watching it.

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During the next three months, from now through September, it will visibly shift to the left. Each evening at nightfall, it will still hover at about the same height. But it will continually migrate south, or leftward, as it marches through the zodiac through Cancer, Leo, Virgo and into Libra. You’ll readily see the change through your windows around dinnertime. It will also have periodic adventures that will be fun to watch. It will continually get brighter, too – much brighter, until by late summer it will be dazzling enough to cast shadows on white surfaces for observers away from cities and other artificial lights.

Venus is a strange planet. It has the slowest rotation of any object in the known universe. Its equator spins at just four miles an hour. And it’s the hottest planet, with a day-and-night temperature that never budges, but remains stuck at 850 degrees. At least it’s a dry heat. But no, there’s another discomfort there, too: Its air pressure is 90 times greater than ours, which means 50 times more pressurized than a pressure cooker.

So we’ll never land there. It’s physically a nightmare. But looking at it, as its clouds made of sulfuric acid droplets brilliantly reflect sunlight, is another story. It’s the brightest starlike object in the heavens.

This weekend – Friday and Saturday night, June 16 and 17 – it will hover near the crescent Moon. It will then periodically meet the Moon and various stars, like Virgo’s blue Spica the final evening of August.

This is a wonderful Evening Star apparition, the best in years. Enjoy it each clear evening.

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