December 16, 2018

Astro-Event of the Week; February 23rd-March 1st; A Close Conjunction.

Lots of happenings in this last week of February… the pick for the astro-event of the week was a toughie. I choose the Friday close conjunction/occultation of Venus and the Moon, as it’s one of the closest of the year! And it’s easily observed with the naked eye, and highly photogenic to boot!

Look to the west, shortly after sunset on Friday, the 27th. A few lucky penguins off of the southern tip of South America may actually see the Moon occult Venus; let us know if you’re not a penguin and actually witnessed this! This is also a good time to retry the spot-Venus-in-the-daytime feat from a few weeks’ back; the Moon makes a good guide. Many people are amazed at this simple feat! Venus itself now sports a crescent phase, mimicking the Moon.

The Astro-word for the week is Neith. Did you know Venus was once thought to have a Moon of its own? It’s actually the largest planet in out solar system to remain moonless. This proposed object was first initially sighted by no less than Giovanni Cassini (of the Cassini Gap fame!) in 1672 and then spuriously sighted over the next two centuries! Some even purported to see a phase and solar transits of the elusive object… these sightings were more than likely internal telescopic reflections or background stars, although it was once proposed that another, unknown inferior planet occasionally passed near Venus. The asteroid 2002 VE68 does share an orbital resonance with Venus, but at a diameter of 0.5 km, is an unlikely suspect. Neith was the ancient Egyptian goddess of war and the name was proposed in 1884. One wonders what these astronomers of old saw; Cassini obviously wasn’t a rank amateur (no offense to amateurs!) who would be easily fooled by internal reflections; remember, most of those guys made their own ‘scopes from scratch and understood much about optics! These days Neith is part of the unknown curiosities of astronomical history. Any Neith conjunctions (or better yet pics!) during the conjunction-occultation, let us know!

Runners up this week were the launch of STS-119 on the same date, and the launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory and a rare (But tough to observe!) four moon transit of Saturn on the 24th. These are still events worth watching out for!

 

 

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  1. [...] Venus was once thought to have a large moon? It’s true; we’ve written about the spurious moon named Neith (as in the astronomers that say “Neith?” a bit of Monty Python humor) recorded from the time of [...]

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