This is my best picture of Venus which is not that good, but let’s see you do better. Venus is top of the bill in the evening sky at the moment, if you look roughly due west. Basically if you see a blazing bright white light in the sky, that is Venus, except if it is a plane of course.
Venus is completely white and featureless in visible light due to a permanent blanket of thick cloud. However it does show phases, even to the naked eye; in the picture above you can see that it is not quite a circle. Look out on May 19th because Venus will be passing very close to the Moon. All the planets (as well as the Sun and Moon) appear to follow the same line in the sky, called the ecliptic. The signs of the zodiac are those constellations which lie closest to the ecliptic, because you can see where a particular planet is in its orbit by looking at what constellation it is in. For example Venus is currently passing from Taurus to Gemini.
Venus is a very strange place, a world of acid rain and metal snow, racked by continual lightning storms and hot enough to melt lead. Atmospheric pressure at the surface is the same as the bottom of Earth’s oceans. Venus is covered in volcanoes, but due to the high pressure, they do not form mountain peaks; instead the lava spreads out to form thick goopy puddles, like hot cheese oozing from an overloaded toasted sandwich maker. If anyone lives there it is a safe bet that they’re looking to move, ideally to somewhere with a better climate and more local amenities.
This is my favourite world, our Moon. It is about four and a half billion years old, yet always looks nice and shiny, despite being a bit awkward to clean. It would still be part of the Earth if it were not for a giant impact, from a planet about the size of Mars. The explosion threw so much debris into orbit that it eventually condensed to form the Moon. But for a while there would have been beautiful rings around the Earth, a bit like Saturn’s.
This photo, filtered for blue light, clearly shows the large dark areas on the Moon’s face. They are called in Latin maria (seas) although in fact they are flat lava plains. There are hardly any on the far side of the Moon, which is weird. It is like someone has arranged the Moon to give us the best view.
This picture is adjusted for high contrast to show the enormous Tycho crater, left of bottom centre and surrounded by bright rays of material ejected by a meteoroid impact. The Moon is covered in craters as it is constantly bombarded with comets, asteroids and other space junk. If you go to the Moon please be aware that it is a hard hat area.
It is amazing what you can see on the Moon with even a small pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens. The three round dark areas right of centre, like bits of pepperoni, are (left to right) the Sea of Serenity, the Sea of Tranquility, and the Sea of Fertility. The small pepperoni to the right of them is the Sea of Crises. The big white spot left of centre is the crater Copernicus, which is about half the size of Scotland, if not quite as nice for a holiday. The small bright dot at ten o’clock is crater Aristarchus, named after the Greek astronomer who first calculated the distance to the Moon. He got it wrong, but that was only due to the poor tape measures available at the time.
Chapter 1: She adored London, a city as passionate and beautiful as she was.