Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Evening Star

Tonight I noticed the crescent moon with Venus glowing brightly below it--a beautiful sight in the western sky, just after sunset.  I recalled that Venus can be called either the "evening star" or "morning star" depending on her orbit relative to the earth and sun, and that she exhibits phases just like the moon. Tonight she was spectacular, losing none of her glamour despite being close  to the much bigger moon. 

Growing up, astronomy was very much a part of my world and early education, because it was a great hobby and source of fascination for my dad.  Thanks to him, I immediately recognized this conjunction, which we will not see again until the spring of 2010.  Often, on clear nights, and sometimes early in the morning, we would go out in the yard and observe the many wonders of the sky--the different constellations, the Northern Lights--which we could sometimes see where I grew up in northern Michigan--the Milky Way, and important stars such as Arcturus , Sirius, and Vega.  Dad subscribed to Sky and Telescope and for holidays and his birthdays a common present was some book he found recommended in his reading---usually quite technical and expensive!  Dad called these his "heaven books"  and poured over them often in the evenings after work.  He enjoyed the change of seasons for the difference it brought in the night sky, and we often had "quizzes"  where I would have to name a constellation, a star, or distinguish a star from a planet in the sky.  In addition to astronomy, he enjoyed science fiction, especially anything about other galaxies and worlds.  

A number of years ago, I  had the opportunity to travel to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time, which unfortunately Dad never did during his lifetime.  (The closest he came was when we were in Chennai, which is about 13 degrees north of the equator. )  Before I left, I got "educated"  on what to look for--the famous "Southern Cross" of course, and some other constellations that Dad had read about and studied on his sky maps but never had the chance to see personally.  I like to think that now he can see any star or constellation he wishes--and perhaps even a distant galaxy or two, far, far away... 

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