Strange Universe 5/1/20 | WAMC

Strange Universe 5/1/20

May 3, 2020


Gaze up at nightfall, around 8:30. There, in the last fading blushes of twilight, you’ll see Venus, which has dominated the West for months. It’s also called The Evening Star. Take it in, because big changes are starting to happen and you don’t want to miss the show.

This planet is simply dazzling – about fifteen times brighter than the most brilliant actual star. If you have a small telescope, check out the Evening Star when the sky still has a little twilight glow, otherwise it can be overwhelming. If you have binoculars, brace your elbows on a window sill and you ought to be able to see that Venus is crescent shaped like the moon.

But you don’t have much time left. During this month of May, Venus will be lower and lower each evening at dusk. It’s sinking like a stone. By month’s end it will probably be blocked by hills or trees. Then next month it passes between us and the sun and wham, the Evening Star is gone for more than a year. When it returns it’ll be as a morning star, very low in the east before dawn, a sight only for insomniacs and early risers. So to see it at the convenient dinnertime hour, it’s pretty much now or forget about it.  

In 2007 the New York Times did a nostalgia piece about the hit song Venus by Frankie Avalon. Readers sent letters of praise to the paper as they recalled that tune from 50 years ago. I sent in a  letter, too – saying that the song was so terrible, so amazingly insipid, it represented our galaxy’s low point, should be made as illegal as hopefully the happy birthday melody, and the Venus “master” disk blasted into space where it will hopefully never be found.

But that shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying its namesake. While it’s still there.