June 06, 2005

A thing of beauty graces the skies: Our place in this universe

We've lost something by not having to rise at the crack of dawn to get a head start on the farm chores. We no longer witness the sky's slow shift from indigo to blue as the rising sun lifts night's shadows from the Earth.

On Tuesday, though, many will rediscover dawn's grace as they wake early to watch a rare event: the transit of Venus.

It's been 122 years since the morning star crossed the mighty sun, certainly a once in a lifetime event. Fortun-ately, if grey conceals the heavens, we'll get another chance in 2012. Miss that one, though, and we'll have to wait until the 22nd century.

Iowans will be able to see the last 20 minutes or so of Tueday's transit. Once the entire sun ascends the horizon, look for a tiny black dot upon its lower quarter. Be sure to don welder's glasses.


As the third brightest object in the sky, humanity long has worshiped and been fooled by Venus. The ancient Romans considered her the goddess of love and beauty, adopting many of the Greek myths of Aphrodite.

Venus is a mysterious world thanks to its thick cloud cover, which accounts for her brightness by reflecting a great amount of sunlight. Some thought she might be tropical. Not until the last quarter century did we really understand what she looked like. Despite her allure, she is a hellish world of intense heat and acid rain.

Venus, more correctly, is love gone bad.


The transit ought to re-mind us of our place in the universe. Though Venus will be but a speck upon the sun, its nearness to Earth actually makes the planet appear 30 times larger than it really is compared to our star.

And Venus is Earth's virtual twin in size.

(originally published June 6, 2004)

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