Wake up before sunrise tomorrow – May 25, 2014 – to view the moon and dazzling planet Venus lighting up the eastern twilight. You can’t miss these two celestial luminaries. The moon and Venus rank as the second-brightest and third-brightest heavenly bodies, after the sun. Plus, take a close look at the night side of Sunday’s waning crescent moon with either the unaided eye or binoculars. You might see the soft glow of earthshine illuminating the dark side of the moon.
Venus’ orbit lies inside of Earth’s orbit. Because of this, we see Venus either as the “morning star” in the east before sunrise – or at other times, as the “evening star” in the west after sunset. Later this year, in late October 2014, Venus will pass behind the sun to enter into Earth’s evening sky.
It is said that the ancient Greeks called this planet Phosphorus in the morning sky and Hesperus in the evening sky. Apparently, ancient Greek astronomers were aware that the names Phosphorus and Hesperus referred to the same heavenly body. In fact, the ancient Greek astronomers Heraclitus and Aristarchus even believed Venus orbited the sun, instead of Earth.
When Galileo aimed his telescope at Venus, and discovered that this world displays the full range of phases, he became convinced that Venus revolved around the sun as well. We now know that Venus orbits the sun inside of Earth’s orbit in a period of 225 Earth-days. Thus this brilliant planet helped to revolutionize humanity’s understanding of the solar system.
Bottom line: Get up early, an hour or so before sunrise, to see the moon and Venus on Sunday morning, May 24! They will be close together and beautiful.