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April 1, 2011

The planet Venus continues to highlight the dawn sky this month, although it's slowly slipping from view. It looks like a brilliant star, quite low in the eastern sky at sunrise. It's so bright that you can easily mistake it for an approaching airplane.

It's appropriate that Venus greets the month of April, since the month and the planet are both named for the goddess of love and beauty. In Greek mythology, she was known as Aphrodite, which is where we get the name "April." In Roman mythology, the name was changed to Venus.

Of course, when the months were given their current names, only a small fraction of the world's people used those names. Different cultures were isolated from each other, so they each developed their own calendars.

The cultures of Mesoamerica, for example, developed a ritual calendar that was split into 13 months. Each month had 20 days. The numbers 13 and 20 were sacred, and may have been related to Venus itself.

The planet is visible as the "morning star" and the "evening star" for roughly 260 days at a stretch -- the product of 20 times 13, and the length of the ritual calendar. Each month in this calendar had its own name, and so did each day of the month. Months were named for colors, animals, or astronomical objects. And among other things, the days were named for the frog, the eagle, corn, night -- and Venus.

So enjoy the month of April and the planet that shares its namesake: brilliant Venus.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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