Sunday, May 16, 2010

Venus Disappears behind the Moon (Metro Manila, Philippines, May 16, 2010, 7:36 PM.)

The sky was clear and the air still. Just after sunset on the 16th of May in the Philippines and elsewhere, people saw something beautiful in the sky. It was the setting crescent Moon with Venus just above the darkened part of the lunar disk. Not everyone knew it was coming, but it was really a spectacle that was hard to miss. "Beautiful!" People said, and they took photographs with their cell phones. The next day, the event was the main story featured on Yahoo!.

Yes, Venus and the Moon together was a beautiful sight. Venus is actually on the opposite side of the Sun and it's position relative to the moon the that day made for an astronomy spectacle for everyone. But after looking at the two together for a while and taking photographs, most people went on their way. Little did they know that if they had waited a bit longer, they would have witnessed Venus move closer to the Moon and wink out as it is finally fully obscured by the lunar disk in what is called, by the way, a lunar occultation.

For those who didn't realize that the Moon would cover Venus, well, it happened at 7:36 pm. If they had waited, they would have seen Venus move closer to the lunar disk's edge and slowly weaken in brightness until it gets "snuffed out" like a candle - but we all know that it's just behind the Moon!

Superstitious people have asked the significance of such an alignment of the Moon and Venus. But really, there's nothing to it from the scientific point of view. It's just one object blocking the view of another in space. But historically, the "crescent Moon and star" is a recurring symbol in the Islamic world since ancient times and the motif appears in several Islamic country flags (left).

As early as the 14th century B.C., the crescent and star symbol was already associated with the Moabites of the book of Genesis in the Bible. It was also a part of Sumerian iconography with the crescent representing the Moon god Sin, and the star representing the goddess of fertility, Ishtar.

It really pays to look at the sky sometimes even when you're not expecting anything to see or happen. You might get lucky like the hundreds of people who saw Venus and the Moon together. Luckier were the ones who waited to see Venus get covered up by the Moon and then appear again later at the other side. It would have taken a lot of patience, though!

The pictures here were taken by this writer with a cellphone camera, thus, there is slight image elongation. The photo on top shows Venus as it nears the lunar disk. The smaller one at the left shows Venus just before it hid behind the Moon.The orange blur at the top left corner is a plane that has just left the airport.

See more spectacular photos and videos of the May 16, 2010 lunar occultation of Venus over the Philippines in Erica Valdueza's The Sky Above.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great blog. thank you for your entry. Intriguing about venus. Hello from the U.S.!