Venus is slowly pulling away from the Sun and climbing into better view in the evening sky. It’s the “evening star,” quite low in the southwest as the sky begins to darken. And right now, the fainter planet Mercury is a little below it, although you may need binoculars to see it.
One of the reasons that Venus shines so brightly is that it’s surrounded by an atmosphere that’s topped by bright clouds. That atmosphere was discovered by a Russian scientist and naturalist who was born 300 years ago today.
Mikhail Lomonosov was the son of a well-to-do shipper. Mikhail began accompanying has father on trips at the age of 10, and began soaking up knowledge. He attended universities in Russia and Germany, and became a professor of chemistry.
His interests ranged far beyond his laboratory, though. He wrote poetry and designed mosaics, and he helped establish a public university in Moscow. He also studied many scientific fields, including geology and astronomy.
In 1761, along with scores of other astronomers around the world, Lomonosov watched Venus pass across the face of the Sun. Just before Venus began its passage, Lomonosov saw a bright ring encircle the planet. He concluded that the ring was sunlight “bent” around the planet by an atmosphere — a conclusion that was correct.
Lomonosov died four years later. To commemorate his accomplishments, scientists have named an underwater ridge and craters on the Moon and Mars in his honor.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011
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