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Moon and Venus

April 22, 2017

The two brightest objects in the night sky team up at dawn the next couple of days: the Moon and the planet Venus. Venus stands close to the left or upper left of the crescent Moon tomorrow, and a little to the upper right of the Moon on Thursday. Venus is the brilliant “morning star.”

The planet has no moons of its own, although for a couple of centuries it seemed that it might. From the late 1600s to the late 1700s, many astronomers reported seeing a moon close to the bright planet. Some of those astronomers were among the best observers of their time, so others took the sightings seriously.

But the sightings were sporadic. And it was impossible to combine them all to calculate an orbit for the possible moon, so the subject fizzled out for a while.

Then, in 1884, another astronomer thought he had a solution. The sightings weren’t a moon, he decided, but a small planet. Its orbit was synchronized with Venus’s in such a way that they appeared close together once every three years. He named this rarely seen world Neith, after an Egyptian war and sky goddess who was sometimes known as the veiled goddess.

A few years later, though, the veil was lifted for good. A thorough analysis of all the sightings found that there was neither moon nor planet. Instead, they were all sightings of stars that just happened to line up close to Venus — simple coincidences. The subject was closed — and our closest neighbor world remained moonless.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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