Shadows of Venus

Nov 29, 2005
Richard and Douglas Lawrence make hand shadows using the light of Venus. Photo details: 60 sec, ISO 1600.

The planet Venus is growing so bright, it's actually casting shadows.

It's often said (by astronomers) that Venus is bright enough to cast shadows. So where are they? Few people have ever seen a Venus shadow. But they're there, elusive and delicate--and, if you appreciate rare things, a thrill to witness. Attention, thrill-seekers: Venus is reaching its peak brightness for 2005 and casting its very best shadows right now.

Image: Richard and Douglas Lawrence make hand shadows using the light of Venus. Photo details: 60 sec, ISO 1600.

Amateur astronomer Pete Lawrence of Selsey, UK, photographed the elusive shadow of Venus just two weeks ago. It was a quest that began in the 1960s:

"When I was a young boy," recalls Lawrence, "I read a book written by Sir Patrick Moore in which he mentioned the fact that there were only three bodies in the sky capable of casting a shadow on Earth. The sun and moon are pretty obvious, but it was the third that fascinated me -- Venus."

Forty years passed.

Then, "quite by chance a couple of months ago," he continues, "I found myself in Sir Patrick's home. The conversation turned to things that had never been photographed. He told me that there were few, if any, decent photographs of a shadow caused by the light from Venus. So the challenge was set."

On Nov. 18, Lawrence took his own young boys, Richard (age 14) and Douglas (age 12), to a beach near their home. "There was no ambient lighting, no moon, no manmade lights, only Venus and the stars. It was the perfect venue to make my attempt." On that night, and again two nights later, they photographed shadows of their camera's tripod, shadows of patterns cut from cardboard, and shadows of the boy's hands--all by the light of Venus.

The shadows were very delicate, "the slightest movement destroyed their distinct sharpness. It is difficult," he adds, "for a cold human being to stand still long enough for the amount of time needed to catch the faint Venusian shadow."

Difficult, yes, but worth the effort, he says. After all, how many people have seen themselves silhouetted by the light of another planet?

If you'd like to try, this is the week. Your attempt must come before Dec. 3. After that, the crescent moon will join Venus in the evening sky, and any shadows you see then will be moon shadows.

Instructions: Find a dark site (very dark) with clear skies and no manmade lights. Be there at sunset. You'll see Venus glaring in the southern sky. When the sky fades to black, turn your back on Venus (otherwise it will spoil your night vision). Hold your hand in front of a white screen--e.g., a piece of paper, a portable white board, a white T-shirt stretched over a rock--and let the shadow materialize.

Shadows of Venus

Can't see it? Venus shadows are elusive. "Young eyes help," notes Lawrence, whose teenage sons saw the shadows more easily than he did.

Shadows or not, before you go home, be sure to look at Venus directly through binoculars or a small telescope. Like the moon, Venus has phases, and this week it is a lovely crescent. Aside: If Venus is at peak brightness, shouldn't it be full? No. Venus is full when it is on the opposite side of the sun, fully illuminated yet far from Earth. Venus is much brighter now, as a crescent, because Earth and Venus are on the same side of the sun. Venus is nearby, big and bright.

Look at Venus or look away from it. Either way, it's a great view.

Source: Science@NASA (by Dr. Tony Phillips)

Explore further: Highest-precision measurement of water in planet outside the solar system

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Venus Express spies rainbow-like 'glories'

Mar 11, 2014

(Phys.org) —A rainbow-like feature known as a 'glory' has been seen by ESA's Venus Express orbiter in the atmosphere of our nearest neighbour – the first time one has been fully imaged on another planet.

Venus visible in the daytime sky

Dec 05, 2013

Here's a feat of visual athletics to amaze your friends with this week. During your daily routine, you may have noticed the daytime Moon hanging against the azure blue sky. But did you know that, with careful ...

Recommended for you

Satellite galaxies put astronomers in a spin

58 minutes ago

An international team of researchers, led by astronomers at the Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg), has studied 380 galaxies and shown that their small satellite galaxies almost always ...

Video: The diversity of habitable zones and the planets

1 hour ago

The field of exoplanets has rapidly expanded from the exclusivity of exoplanet detection to include exoplanet characterization. A key step towards this characterization is the determination of which planets occupy the Habitable ...

Ultra-deep astrophoto of the Antenna Galaxies

1 hour ago

You might think the image above of the famous Antenna Galaxies was taken by a large ground-based or even a space telescope. Think again. Amateur astronomer Rolf Wahl Olsen from New Zealand compiled a total ...

Video: A dizzying view of the Earth from space

1 hour ago

We've got vertigo watching this video, but in a good way! This is a sped-up view of Earth from the International Space Station from the Cupola, a wraparound window that is usually used for cargo ship berthings ...

User comments : 0