plan­ets on dis­play

All About Space - - Contents -

Venus is a beau­ti­ful ‘Morn­ing Star’, while Saturn and Mars wind down

Venus is now shin­ing brightly in the east be­fore sun­rise as a ‘Morn­ing Star’, far, far brighter than any of the many stars around it. At the start of our ob­serv­ing pe­riod the sec­ond planet from the Sun rises at 6am, and by early De­cem­ber is ris­ing at 4am, long be­fore the Sun. Each morn­ing through Novem­ber and into De­cem­ber it will be a lit­tle higher, a lit­tle brighter and a lit­tle eas­ier to see, very ob­vi­ous to the naked eye as a bright sil­very­white ‘star’.

Our best views of Venus for this pe­riod will come in early De­cem­ber when it will be so bright that not even the light pol­lu­tion blight­ing your town or city’s sky will pre­vent you from see­ing it; your naked eye will pick it out very eas­ily, and the view through a pair of binoc­u­lars or a small tele­scope will be beau­ti­ful, too.

In early De­cem­ber Venus will have com­pany in the sky. Be­fore dawn on 3 De­cem­ber a thin wan­ing cres­cent Moon will shine just eight de­grees to the planet’s up­per right. The fol­low­ing morn­ing the Moon will have moved on and will be a very thin cres­cent shin­ing to the lower left of Venus. You should try to look at this gath­er­ing through a pair of binoc­u­lars to en­sure you ap­pre­ci­ate the con­trast­ing colours of the Moon and Venus, and their dif­fer­ent bright­nesses too. On ei­ther of those morn­ings you might also see the dark part of the Moon’s face glow­ing with the soft pur­ple-pink glow of Earthshine.

Al­though it doesn’t ac­tu­ally rain great plop­ping drops of skin-scorch­ing acid on Venus, as some would have you be­lieve, it does have clouds of highly cor­ro­sive sul­phuric acid in its at­mos­phere. How­ever, the tem­per­a­ture down on its sur­face would be equally as lethal to any­one who went there with­out ad­e­quate ther­mal pro­tec­tion: day­time tem­per­a­tures on Venus can reach 470 de­grees

Cel­sius (878 de­grees Fahren­heit).

With all that in mind it’s un­likely that as­tro­nauts will visit Venus any time soon, but when they even­tu­ally do make the long jour­ney from Earth the first team to land on Venus will be in­side a space­craft con­structed with a thick, pro­tec­tive hull made out of spe­cial ma­te­ri­als re­sis­tant to the planet’s crush­ing pres­sures, lethal heat and poi­sonous air – some­thing more like a div­ing bell than a lu­nar lan­der. That won’t be for many years though, so you should get out there on these chilly, clear morn­ings and en­joy the sight of Venus blaz­ing in the sky as a beau­ti­ful Morn­ing Star.

BoötesVirgo -4.3AMVirgoCorVus

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