Venus

Contributed by
May 24, 2005
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There's nothing mind-blowing today on the BABlog. I just wanted to say something.

I finally bought myself a tripod for the monster 15x70 binoculars I've had for a year, because the binocs are a little bit too big to hold steady with just my hand. We put up a bird feeder in the back yard the other day, and the finches have discovered it. Finches are jittery and fly away if they spot you, so being able to stand inside my house and watch them through the binocs is nice. The goldfinches were so yellow it made my brain hurt.

When the Sun set, I looked up the position of Venus using software, and saw that it was only 15 degrees above the horizon-- not much more than the span out your hand when held out at arm's length. So I took the rig outside to my back porch (finches be damned) to take a look at our planetary fraternal twin.

Even though the sky was still bright, Venus was a snap to find. I just locked the tripod in the up-and-down direction, then scanned back-and-forth. Bang! There she was.

I love seeing Venus (and Jupiter too) when the Sun has just set and the sky is still blue. At the moment I saw it, not even three hours ago as I write this, Venus was about 245 million kilometers away (150 million miles). Imagine! The light from Venus traveled all the way to the Sun, then past it another 150 million kilometers, through the binoculars and finally into my eyes, revealing Venus as a brilliant white disk.

Once I knew where to look, I could spot Venus-- barely!-- with my unaided eye, too. The Little Astronomer took a peek, and saw it too. Then I showed her how to spot it with just her eye (start at the ventilation pipe in our roof, then go up the width of two fingers held at arm's length... "I see it!").

Venus will be in our evening sky, making it pretty easy to see, for the rest of 2005. By the end of the year, it'll start to move toward the Sun quickly, becoming a thin crescent, and getting incredibly bright (expect more UFO reports, folks).

It'll be nice to see it that way. I sometimes forget to go outside and just look up, and hey-- that's what astronomy is all about.