Moon and Venus

StarDate: August 16, 2009

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The dawn sky is full of beautiful sights right now. Orion is climbing into good view in the east, with the "dog star" Sirius just peeking into view below it. The V-shaped face of Taurus, the bull, is above them, with the orange planet Mars near the bull's own orange "eye."

And tomorrow, the highlight of the bunch is the pairing of the crescent Moon and the planet Venus. Venus is the "morning star" just below the Moon.

We can't see the surface of Venus because it's hidden by clouds. But orbiting radar has peered through the clouds to map the planet's surface.

The images show volcanic plains, big "continents," and hundreds of volcanoes. In fact, there's evidence that a few hundred million years ago, giant volcanoes completely repaved the surface, burying the evidence of anything that happened on Venus before.

One of the biggest features on Venus is a landmass known as Aphrodite Terra. Although Venus doesn't have any oceans or seas, this feature is classified as a continent because it's well above the planet's average elevation. It's wider than the United States.

Aphrodite Terra may consist of relatively lightweight rock floating atop a layer of heavier rock. We won't know for sure until spacecraft land there and analyze the rocks. But on a planet where the surface temperature is around 900 degrees Fahrehneit, and atmospheric pressure is 90 times that at Earth's surface, that won't happen anytime soon.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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