The end of the week provides a great line up of our Moon with two or, if you are lucky, three planets. The skinny crescent Moon will be getting fuller and higher each evening, just after sunset. Tricky Mercury will be just below it on February 23, with bright Venus high in the south-west and Jupiter completing the line up above and to the left of Venus.
Over the next week or two Mercury will move further from the Sun and be even higher in the sky – peaking on March 5 with its greatest eastern elongation. At this time of year, the ecliptic – the path that the Sun and planets take against the background stars is steeply angled to the western horizon. This makes it easiest to see Mercury in the evening now. Later in the year Mercury will be as far east of the Sun, but at a shallower angle to the horizon, so it will be much harder to see. In well over 25 years of hunting for Mercury, I have only found it six times – so perseverance is required, as is a clear horizon and a lack of clouds. The line-up of the evening planets with the Moon will be great for each night from February 23 through to February 27, after which the Moon will have climbed high above Jupiter. Throughout this month and next Venus will continue to be brilliantly beautiful.
The most famous representation of Venus in art is probably the Venus de Milo – an ancient Greek statue on display at the Louvre in Paris. Discovered in 1820 on the Aegean island of Milos, she was found in pieces, with bits of her left arm and hand. Two French naval ensigns attempted to purchase the statue, but had difficulty finding the funding, or a ship to carry her to France. They were able to convince the French ambassador to fund the purchase – and he was instrumental in preventing the Venus being shipped to Constantinople instead! The Venus de Milo was put on display in Paris in May of 1821. Her origin was described in an inscription on a plinth found with her– she was produced in the late Hellenistic period, around 130 to 100 BC. Unfortunately for the French, this was considered to be after the peak of the Classical period – so the plinth with the inscription mysteriously “vanished” and she was attributed to a much more famous sculptor who had worked earlier.
More recently a doctored image of the Venus de Milo that was used on the cover of German magazine Focus has led to the publishers of the magazine being sued in Athens for allegedly “defaming a national symbol.” The defendants did not appear in court last December, when the case was passed over to a jury trial.