Venus has gone away for a while. After reigning as the brilliant “evening star” for months, the planet has disappeared in the twilight. It’s just too close to the Sun for us to see it. In fact, it passes between the Sun and Earth today, moving into the morning sky as it does so. It’ll become visible as the “morning star” in a few days.
Venus repeats its path across the sky every eight years. During that time, it makes five appearances in both morning and evening sky. And each appearance traces the same loop against the background of stars. That makes it easy to predict where the planet will appear long into the future.
Easy, that is, once you figure out the pattern. It took a while for most cultures to start getting the idea.
One of the earliest to get it was the Mayan culture of Central America. Mayan astronomers built special observatories for observing the sky. From those perches, they plotted Venus’s position over many years. They then compiled tables of Venus’s motion across the sky — details that were important to the Mayan calendar. With those tables, they could forecast Venus’s appearances hundreds of years into the future.
For the immediate future, look for Venus in the east-northeast shortly before sunrise in a week or so. Although it’ll be immersed in the twilight, it’s so bright that it will stand out. It will climb away from the Sun over the following weeks — beginning a long reign as the morning star.
Script by Damond Benningfield