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INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF ASTRONOMY: VENUS IN THE SKY ABOVE ROSS

2009 is the 'International Year of Astronomy' and this gives me the excuse to get outside with my personal hobby a little more (not that I need an excuse). Throughout the year, I shall be taking my telescopes and cameras either out into the garden or to darker locations to try to photograph and film various astronomical phenomena.

Last night I went outside (on the spur of the moment really as we were short of video news for the week) and filmed the planet, Venus. I was going to do this on the 23rd of January, and still will if the sky is clear as, on that evening, Venus will be close (in conjunction) with Uranus. No schoolboy jokes please - you will still need to look up in the sky to see it. Weather permitting, this will give the opportunity to see one of the closest and one of the most distant planets together and make finding Uranus in the sky an easy task.

Below, you can see a film of Venus last night, plus a photo which is made up from the stacked video frames from my 8 inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope and monochrome astro imager.

Venus is the closest planet to Earth at 26 million miles during its closest approach and is the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and the moon. Until the space age, the surface of Venus remained a mystery as the planet is covered in a thick atmosphere which is impossible to see through optically from Earth. In 1961, the American Marina 2 flew by the planet and found that, even close up, the atmosphere proved to be an impenetrable barrier, although it did show that the planet's atmosphere is made up of mainly carbon dioxide. Later in the 1960s the Soviets sent several probes to Venus - the first three did not make it to the surface and the fourth, Venera 7, may have landed but failed to send back pictures. Data received from the craft was later analysed and this showed that the planet's atmosphere was 100 times that of earth, with a temperature around 475 degrees C - nearly 900 F. The first colour image of the surface of Venus was sent back by Venera 13 in 1982. The craft functioned for 127 minutes before over heating, getting crushed by the atmosphere and corroded by acid rain. The image showed a reddish brown surface scattered with broken volcanic rock. All-in-all, Venus is an extremely inhospitable planet with a runaway greenhouse effect and no politicians there to solve the problem by increasing taxes.

If you really like this film, you can follow this link to my Vimeo page and download the mpeg2 version. Only for personal use though, please unless you ask first.

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As seen through a telescope, Venus shows no surface detail due to a thick atmosphere but shows phases like the moon as it is closer to the sun than Earth.

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