Venus closes in on Saturn

Hopefully you’ve been noticing Venus, the brilliant ‘evening star’ dominating the western sky the past several months.’ Even from light- polluted urban areas it’s hard to miss. Less obvious is nearby Saturn to its upper left. Although ten times larger than Venus, it is much further away and not nearly as bright, yet it still outshines most stars. It will be especially fun watching these two planets over the next couple of weeks as they pull closer each night until the evenings of June 30 and July 1 when Venus passes less than one degree (two moonwidths) below the ringed planet. When at their closest the sight should be dazzling, and even more impressive in binoculars and absolutely awesome in a wide-angle telescope. When Venus passes Saturn they will appear to be nearly touching each other, yet looks are deceiving. In fact, Venus is much closer to us with Saturn 18 times further from Venus than we are. Planets which make no light are seen only because they reflect sunlight. Venus’ nearness to us, along with its proximity to the Sun and its greater reflectivity, makes it appear much brighter than the larger, but far more distant planets’Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Indeed, Venus is the third brightest object in our sky, behind only the Sun and Moon. The show doesn’t end July 1. As Venus pulls away from Saturn, it will approach and then July 10-14 pass four moonwidths below Regulus. By then, however, it will be sinking into the setting sun, and after passing between the Sun and Earth, will start its stint as the ‘morning star’ in early September. In the religion of the ancient Greeks and Romans, Aphrodite (Venus) was the goddess of love and beauty. Cronus (Saturn) was the father of Zeus (Jupiter), god of the heavens and earth, and according to one story, Jupiter was the father of Venus, making Saturn her grandfather. Thus with Jupiter now in the southeastern evening sky, we have a three- generation family reunion.’ Sky Calendar ‘ June 21, Thu.: The Northern hemisphere’s summer solstice–the beginning of summer, and the year’s longest day and shortest night. ‘ 22 Fri.: The Moon is at first quarter. ‘ 28 Thu: A bright gibbous Moon leads Scorpius’ brightest star, Antares, across the sky all night, pulling within two moonwidths just before they set around 4 a.m. Jupiter is looking down on them from above. ‘ 30 Sat. evening: Latest sunset at latitude 30 degrees north’although for all practical purposes the Sun sets at the same time within one minute for a week on either side of this date. ‘ 30 Sat.: Full Moon, called Rose Moon, Flower Moon, Strawberry Moon. ‘ July 2, Mon.: Midpoint of 2007 occurs at noon’technically at 1 p.m. thanks to that annoying daylight-saving time. ‘ 5 Thu.: Earth is at aphelion, its farthest point from the Sun in its annual elliptical orbit. ‘ Naked-eye Planets. (The Sun, Moon and planets rise in the east and set in the west due to Earth’s west-to-east rotation.) Evening: Saturn and Venus are in the west with Jupiter, the brightest object in the southeast. Morning: Mars is well up in the east as Jupiter sets in the west. Stargazer appears every other week. Paul Derrick is an amateur astronomer who lives in Waco. Contact him at 918 N. 30th, Waco, 76707, (254) 753-6920 or paulderrickwaco@aol.com. See the Stargazer Web site at stargazerpaul.com.

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