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Venus and Aldebaran

April 15, 2015

One of the most feminine of all astronomical symbols passes by one of the most masculine the next few evenings. Venus, the brilliant “evening star,” scoots a few degrees to the right of Aldebaran, the bright orange eye of Taurus, the bull.

The contrast between them is profound. Venus is a planet — a ball of rock about as big as Earth — while Aldebaran is a star that’s dozens of times wider than the Sun.

It’s fairly easy to see why Venus and Aldebaran got their mythological identities. Venus outshines everything in the night sky except the Moon, so it’s one of the most beautiful objects in the sky. Because of that, ancient skywatchers associated it with the goddess of love and beauty. In Greece, she was known as Aphrodite; in Rome, she was Venus.

Aldebaran stands at the top left point of a letter “V” formed by several stars — a configuration that clearly resembles a face. And Aldebaran’s orange glare makes it look stern and angry, so many cultures associated the face with that of a bull. In fact, the earliest depictions of the celestial bull may have been drawn in caves more than 15,000 years ago.

The bull’s horns extend well above the V, with its shoulder marked by the sparkly Pleiades star cluster, which is to the lower right of Venus right now.

Venus will move past Aldebaran over the next couple of nights, then begin to slowly pull away from the star — a separation of the sexes in the evening sky.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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