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Venus Returns

February 24, 2018

An old friend is returning to view about now — the planet Venus, the brilliant “evening star.” It’s quite low in the west at sunset, so any trees or buildings along the horizon will block it from view. Because it’s so bright, though, if you have a clear horizon you should be able to pick it out.

Venus shuffles back and forth between morning and evening skies. And it repeats itself as it does so. It traces a series of five patterns that repeat every eight years. So in late February of 2026, Venus will stand almost exactly where it is tonight.

That’s because the orbital cycles of Earth and Venus are nearly synchronized. For every eight times that Earth orbits the Sun — a period of eight years — Venus orbits the Sun 13 times.

That could be an orbital resonance — a physical link caused by the gravitational pull that Earth and Venus exert on each other. But the cycle is off by a tiny bit, so the timing could be just a coincidence.

No matter the cause, though, it makes it easy to predict where Venus will appear at any time: the same place it was eight years earlier.

And Venus will put on a much better showing as we head into spring and then into summer. It will climb a little higher into the sky each evening, so it’ll be a little easier to spot. It will remain in view a little longer each night, too — providing more time to appreciate the beauty of this predictable planet.

Tomorrow: a vision in blue

Script by Damond Benningfield

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