By Deborah Byrd
Saturday, July 18, 2009
If you happen to look outside before dawn on Sunday morning, you will see the sky’s two brightest nighttime objects side by side. One is our companion world, the moon, now in a waning crescent phase. The other is the sky’s brightest planet, Venus.
There are many other objects in this part of the sky. You’ll also find another planet, Mars, and some noticeable patterns of stars — really, actual clusters of stars in space. But Venus and the moon will dominate the view. They will be so noticeable that people from around the world will see and comment on them.
Venus was an evening object when this year began. And — as the world orbiting one step inward from Earth around the sun — Venus’ whereabouts in our sky depends as much on its own motion through space as on Earth. Our two worlds are engaged in a continual race around the sun — but Venus is destined, always, to win. That’s because the closer a planet is to the sun, the faster it moves in orbit.
Venus is bright and beautiful now, but over the coming months it will begin to fade slightly from its current glorious brightness. It’ll always be bright — but less bright than you’ll find it before dawn now. That’s because Venus will be moving farther and farther ahead of us in the race around the sun.
By the end of this year, Venus will be so far ahead that it’ll turn the corner ahead of us in orbit and disappear in the sun’s glare. So if you’re up very early Sunday morning – or out very late – remember to look in the east. You’ll enjoy Venus and the waning moon – side by side.