Sunday, April 29, 2012

Star Gazers: Venus Dominates Evening Western Sky

Although Venus is always one of the brightest objects in the sky, this week it is at its very brightest. That's because of a combination of circumstances.The solar system's two innermost planets, Mercury and Venus, go through a series of phases similar to the moon, as they are lit from the side at different angles by the sun. Their apparent size also changes as they move from the far side of the sun to the near side.
Step outside any night this week about an hour after sunset and have a look at the western sky. The first thing that will catch your eye is the brilliant planet Venus.
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Currently Venus is moving toward the Earth, so it is getting larger and brighter. Its phase is also narrowing as it moves in front of the sun, which makes it decrease in brightness. So we've got two opposing forces in action: Getting closer means getting brighter, and a narrowing crescent means getting fainter. This week the two balance out to make Venus as bright as it can possibly be.

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