It’s been quite a year for the planet Venus. Back in June, it passed across the face of the Sun — the last “transit” for more than a century. And it continues the close encounters before dawn tomorrow, when it slips just a lion’s-whisker away from Regulus, the brightest star of Leo. Venus is the dazzling “morning star,” so you can’t miss it.
Venus passes close to Regulus fairly often — once or twice a year. And this year’s encounter is especially close. At first light tomorrow, Venus will stand only a fraction of a degree below the bright star.
At times, though, the encounter can be even closer. In fact, Venus can sometimes pass directly between Earth and Regulus, briefly hiding the star from view.
Such passages are rare, though. For one thing, Venus’s path across the sky slides back and forth a little bit with respect to Regulus’s position, so the circumstances of each encounter are a little different. For another, while Regulus climbs all the way across the sky, Venus doesn’t. So there are only certain times of year when it can appear close to Regulus — when the star is in the east shortly before dawn, or in the west shortly after sunset. And for yet another, Venus is tiny as seen from Earth, so there’s not much to cover Regulus up — the encounter has to be a bullseye.
Even so, it does happen. The last of these occultations took place in July 1959, but the next won’t happen until October of 2044.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012