Venus Disappears during Meteor Shower

April 17, 2009
A Venus-Moon conjunction photographed Monika Landy-Gyebnar of Balatonakarattya, Hungary, on Dec. 1, 2008.

Picture this: It's 4:30 in the morning. You're up and out before the sun. Steam rises from your coffee cup, floating up to the sky where a silent meteor streaks through a crowd of stars. A few minutes later it happens again, and again. A meteor shower is underway.

One of the streaks leads to the eastern horizon. There, just above the tree line, and the crescent Moon hover side by side, so close together they almost seem to touch. Suddenly, Venus wavers, winks, and disappears.

All of this is about to happen--for real.

On Wednesday morning, April 22nd, Earth will pass through a stream of comet dust, giving rise to the annual Lyrid meteor shower. At the same time, the crescent Moon and Venus will converge for a close encounter in the eastern sky. Viewed from some parts of the world, the Moon will pass directly in front of Venus, causing Venus to vanish.

The source of the is Comet Thatcher. Every year in late April, Earth passes through the comet's trail of debris. Flakes of comet dust, most no bigger than grains of sand, strike Earth's atmosphere traveling 110,000 mph and disintegrate as fast streaks of light. A typical Lyrid shower produces 10 to 20 per hour over the , not an intense display. Occasionally, however, Earth passes through a dense region of the comet's tail and rates increase five- to ten-fold. In 1982, observers counted 90 Lyrids per hour. Because Thatcher's tail has never been mapped in detail, the outbursts are unpredictable and could happen again at any time. The probabilities are highest during the dark hours before sunrise on April 22nd.

The Moon-Venus conjunction is pure coincidence. It has nothing to do with the Lyrid display other than insurance. Even if the shower fizzles, the sight of a 9% crescent Moon located so close to brilliant Venus is guaranteed to make your day.

Most observers will see only a close gathering of the two bodies. People in western parts of North America are favored with more--a full-blown eclipse or "occultation." Around 5 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, Venus will disappear behind the mountainous rim of the Moon and reappear 60 to 90 minutes later.

Visibility diagrams for the April 22, 2009, lunar occultation of Venus. In the map, times are given in UT. Subtract 7 hours to obtain PDT. Credit: Sky & Telescope. Copyright 2009, all rights reserved.

Do not worry if the sun rises during the occultation, because Venus and the Moon are bright enough to see in broad daylight. Locate the pair before sunrise, so you know where they are, then follow them up the brightening sky using binoculars or naked eyes. Some people say Venus and the are most beautiful when surrounded by morning blue.

On Wednesday morning, April 22nd, you can see for yourself.

Source: Science@NASA, by Dr. Tony Phillips

Explore further: Venus, Saturn and Regulus cluster before dawn in October

Related Stories

The moon meets the Pleiades in April

March 31, 2008

The Pleiades star cluster will have a beautiful encounter with the slender moon in the western sky after sunset on April 8. Usually the moon's brightness overpowers nearby stars, but not when it's such a thin crescent. Binoculars ...

Pretty Sky Alert

February 27, 2009

Be careful, this sort of thing can cause an accident. On Friday evening, Feb. 27th, the 10% crescent Moon will glide by Venus, forming a gorgeous and mesmerizing pair of lights in the sunset sky.

Recommended for you

Ceres image: The lonely mountain

August 25, 2015

NASA's Dawn spacecraft spotted this tall, conical mountain on Ceres from a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers).

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

Dawn spacecraft sends sharper scenes from Ceres

August 25, 2015

The closest-yet views of Ceres, delivered by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, show the small world's features in unprecedented detail, including Ceres' tall, conical mountain; crater formation features and narrow, braided fractures.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.