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Moon and Venus

December 26, 2011

Christmas may have come and gone, but the solar system is offering another nice gift for the holiday season the next couple of evenings: a beautiful conjunction between the crescent Moon and the “evening star.”

Despite the name, the evening star isn’t a star at all. Instead, it’s Venus, our closest planetary neighbor. It’s the next planet inward toward the Sun.

We can’t see the surface of Venus because it’s covered by an unbroken blanket of clouds — which is one of the reasons the planet shines so brightly in our sky. But spacecraft in orbit around Venus have used radar to peer through the clouds. And they’ve revealed a landscape that’s a vulcanologist’s delight: the entire surface is paved with volcanic rock.

In fact, it looks like a global volcanic event re-paved the surface a few hundred million years ago, creating vast plains of volcanic rock. Planetary scientists aren’t quite sure just why, though. Today, hundreds of volcanoes still dot Venus’s surface, and there’s evidence that some of them could still be active. But there’s no evidence of major eruptions taking place, and no evidence of anything on a global scale, so the planet is calm and quiet.

Look for Venus to the left of the crescent Moon beginning shortly after sunset. They don’t set until a couple of hours later, so there’s plenty of time to look for them. And if you don’t get to see them tonight, look again tomorrow night. More about that tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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