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Sanibel Stargazing: Our sister planet Venus shines bright in the west

By Staff | Apr 13, 2010

Just like many of us, I love going to the beach to watch the sunset and marvel at this spectacular and inspiring daily occurrence. There is truly magic in this natural phenomenon that delights all who watch it.

For me, the setting sun is just the beginning of an even larger and more dramatic show. Most people seem to leave the beach minutes following the sunset. I like to linger and experience day turn into night, sky blue changing to midnight blue with tints of red, pink and purple scattered across horizons and finally the first few stars bringing in the night.

This month if you linger after sunset and keep looking to the west you will be rewarded with the brilliance of Venus, our neighboring planet. Venus, which is the third brightest object in our sky behind only the sun and moon, is so bright that you can see it against the blue sky.

Known as our sister planet, Venus is very close in size to Earth, however that is about all the two planets share in common. Venus has a thick cloudy atmosphere which reflects the sun’s rays and is responsible for its dazzling intensity, but this cloudy atmosphere also traps in the heat giving it a surface temperature of about 850 degrees day and night. Venus also has 90 times the air pressure of earth. A few seconds on Venus’s surface would turn a cow into beef stew!

Venus is sometimes referred to as the morning star or the evening star since it is either seen low in the east before sunrise or low in the west after sunset. With its close proximity to the sun, the Maya and the Hindu cultures both depicted Venus as the sun’s brother.

According to Aztec legend, Venus is represented by the god Quetzalcoatl and symbolized both death and rebirth. The radiant brilliance of Venus led Western cultures to associate it with tenderness, pleasure and love. In ancient Rome, the deity Venus was identified with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sensual pleasure and physical love.

Gazing at Venus this April it is easy to imagine how ancient civilizations immortalized this incredibly luminous sight. The next couple of weeks you will also be able to see Mercury just a few degrees below Venus making this a true dynamic duo. Once again we have the opportunity to share in the universal and timeless fascination for these awe inspiring displays.

(Richard Finkel is an Environmental Educator with Captiva Cruises and conducts educational programs including the Sailing Under the Stars Cruise. Comments or questions can be addressed to Richard at info@captivacruises.com.)