Venus and Valentine’s day

Venus dominates the evening sky this month giving rise to many an ardent fancy. Lovers believe the planet is shining for them and astrologers scramble to prove it. Both are deceived, however, by the thick clouds that shroud it, reflecting sunlight like a goddess but choking the Venetian landscape in a furnace of 500 degrees and 90 atmospheres pressure, more a warning to lovers than a licence to love!

The planet in its orbit is bound eternally to the Sun. When viewed in the sky, it never seems to drift far from the Sun, either trailing it in the evening or preceding it in the morning.

The ancient Greeks thought they were different stars, calling the evening star, Hesperus, and the morning star, Phosphorus, the latter name more evocative of the planet’s ambivalence, a flaring light too dangerous to touch. In Latin, Phosphorus is translated as Lucifer!

The planet is currently at its maximum elongation from the Sun and seems to tarry in the evening sky before dropping below the horizon.

It continues to linger throughout March but wheels back towards the Sun in April, passing between the Earth and Sun on the 6th June. The alignment will be perfect and the planet will be seen to transit the Sun’s surface. The last time this happened was 8 years ago, but it won’t happen again until 2117!

Lovers may think that their goddess is smiling on them, but is she? Venus regularly passes between the Sun and Earth, but because of slightly different tilts in the planes of the planetary orbits, perfect alignments occur only four times in a cycle of 243 years, and when they do, they come in pairs 8 years apart. Mathematics rules, not the goddess of Love.

But for those who like to find magic in the heavens, there is another propitious alignment: on the 9th February, Venus passes within half a degree of the planet Uranus and both will be visible within the same telescopic field of view.

And if that were not enough, the two planets are meeting on the Vernal Equinox, the point on the Zodiac which the Sun passes on the 20th March making day and night of equal length and heralding Spring.

And later in the month, on the 25th February, Venus will be paired up with the crescent moon, a fabulous sight, the two perched on the Western horizon like a pair of happy doves.

Have a great Valentine’s day!

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