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Moon and Venus

January 5, 2016

The two brightest objects in the night sky team up at dawn the next couple of days, and two other prominent lights join them.

The Moon is low in the southeast at first light tomorrow. Sunlight illuminates about one-sixth of the lunar hemisphere that faces our way, so it’s a beautifully thin crescent. And the planet Venus is close below it — the brilliant “morning star.”

Of all the major planets and moons in the solar system with a solid surface, Venus might be the most difficult to visit. That’s mainly because of its amazing atmosphere.

On the way down, you’d first have to zip through layers of clouds that are dozens of miles thick. Most of the clouds are made of sulfuric acid, which is nasty stuff — it can eat through metals and other materials.

When you dropped out of the clouds, you’d have to contend with climbing temperatures and pressures. The surface temperature is more than 850 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pressure is more than 90 times greater than on Earth. Under such extreme conditions, the lunar landers that carried astronauts to the Moon would be crushed and melted. So it would take a special kind of lander to sustain life on this desolate world.

Again, look for Venus below the Moon early tomorrow. The planet Saturn is quite close to the lower left of Venus, shining like a golden star. And the orange star Antares is farther to the lower right of Venus — completing a beautiful tableau in the dawn sky.

More tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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