Celestial Queen

This post was written by amateur astronomer Bob Fisher, who has been a passionate star-gazer since childhood when he first saw the superbly dark skies of the Adirondacks on camping trips.  A part-time resident of Olmstedville since 1991, he taught earth science and astronomy in New York City public high schools for more than two decades before making his permanent home here in 2006.  Now a substitute teacher in Warren and Essex county schools, he is also an active astrophotographer. Year-round, he frequently leads astronomy workshops in local schools and libraries, and at the Adirondack Interpretive Center.

On Saturday, Feb 8th 2014 at the AIC, he will be leading “Wonders of the Winter Sky”, an indoor and (hopefully with clear skies) outdoor presentation on the stars, constellations and nebulae visible this time of the year. The program will begin at 6:30 pm. Call or email to register.

Beautiful, radiant Venus: for millennia across many cultures she has been the icon for love and beauty. The old astrological symbol: ♀ for Venus is still used in astronomy to signify the planet, and in biology to represent the female of plant and animal species. Except for the Sun and Moon, Venus is the brightest natural object in the sky.

When he observed Venus with his crude telescope in 1610, the great Italian scientist Galileo was the first person to notice that the planet went through phases just like our Moon. This observation, along with observations of Jupiter and its orbiting moons led him to believe that the Sun is the center of the Solar System. This finding, favoring Copernicus’ Heliocentric Theory put him at odds with the Catholic Church which considered it heresy to consider anything other than the geocentric view, in which the Earth is the center of the universe. The battle between Galileo’s observations and the Church’s law, ultimately led to his arrest by the Inquisition.

Until the early twentieth century, it was widely speculated that Venus harbored lush tropical forests and exotic life forms. Unfortunately, space probes beginning in the early 1970’s, have given us a picture of a place closer to hell than to paradise! The planet’s surface maintains a temperature in excess of 750 degrees F, while overhead there is a constant, thick atmosphere predominantly composed of carbon dioxide with sulfuric acid rain that evaporates before hitting the dry, barren surface. Welcome to the hottest planet in the Solar System.

As Venus orbits the Sun and gets closer to Earth, it appears larger while displaying an ever thinning crescent. On January 11, 2014, the planet reached inferior conjunction, where it was closest to Earth. On that day it was viewed at 5 degrees away from the Sun with 99.5 % of the surface in shadow. Careful observations (avoiding the blinding glare of the Sun), revealed a razor thin crescent. An amateur astronomer in Romania caught some amazing images of the event. Later this month it will reappear in the dawn sky just before sunrise. Through February and March it will rise higher each day and on March 23rd will rise in the East two hours before sunrise. If you are awake, have a look at this dazzling, beautiful object. When observed, it’s easy to understand how she influenced sky watchers for millennia.

Between November 11th 2013 and January 9th 2014, I took a series of photos of Venus .The first two photos show a half disk at 50% illumination.

Venus over Trout Brook, Olmsteadville on Nov. 11, 2013.

Venus over Trout Brook, Olmstedville on Nov. 11, 2013.

Telephoto view showing "half Moon" phase when the planet was highest in the sky after sunset.

Telephoto view on Nov. 11th, showing “half Moon” phase when the planet was highest in the sky after sunset.

Telephoto view on January 30th, 2013.

Telephoto view on December 30th, 2013.

View from Riverside Park, NYC. Looking Southwest across the Hudson River ten minutes after sunset.

View from Riverside Park, NYC on Jan 9th. Looking Southwest across the Hudson River ten minutes after sunset.

Mangified view of photo at Riverside Park, showing the thin 1% illuminated crescent of Venus.

Magnified view of photo at Riverside Park, showing the thin 1% illuminated crescent of Venus.

 The last two photos were taken on January 9th, two days away from Venus’ closest approach to Earth. They show a crescent with only 1% illumination. By using a 200mm telephoto lens my views are similar to what Galileo saw when he made his historic discovery in 1610.

**Update (1.29.14)

Venus is back. It is now a “morning star”. at 6:00A.M.on January 28th, I took this image from Chestertown, NY. Venus near the waning crescent Moon were an awesome pre-dawn treat!

Moon and Venus Starbucks 090

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