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Venus in the Claws

Venus is headed toward a nasty target: a claw of the scorpion. It’ll pass quite close to it in just a few days.

Venus is the brilliant “morning star.” And the scorpion’s claw is the star Zubenelgenubi. It’s directly below Venus at first light tomorrow, but they’ll stand side by side on Friday morning.

Zubenelgenubi is the second-brightest star of Libra, the balance scales. But its name pre-dates Libra’s creation. The name means “the southern claw.” The star represented one of the claws of Scorpius, the next constellation over. But thousands of years ago, it was taken away to form part of the new constellation.

Zubenelgenubi lies just a third of a degree from the ecliptic — the Sun’s path across the sky. So the Sun passes directly in front of the system every year, in early November.

The Moon and planets also stay close to the ecliptic as they move across the background of stars. So the Moon occasionally passes in front of Zubenelgenubi as well, blocking it from view.

The planets can pass in front of it as well. But planets cover a much smaller portion of the sky than the Moon does, so it takes a perfect alignment for them to hide Zubenelgenubi. The last planet to do so was Venus, in 1947.

Venus won’t cover the star this time around, but it won’t miss by much. At their closest, on Friday, they’ll be separated by about a degree and a half — about the width of your finger held at arm’s length.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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