The photos below show three views taken over a period of seven minutes from the hermitage at the Desert House of Prayer north of Tucson where I did my annual eight day retreat the end of last month. Can you see what’s changing in the sky? I’ll explain it… but you’ll have to be a subscriber to find out what it’s all about!
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Now, about those photos… Most of our day to day life, we live in a flat world where we are at the center and the most important question is what’s for lunch. But both religion and astronomy are in the business of reminding us that we in fact live in a much more interesting universe. That’s why I am an astronomer, and also someone who takes time out to pray (as at retreat houses). In this case, the two were combined…
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The dark phenomenon you are seeing moving ever higher in the photos above is the motion of the Earth’s shadow… the pictures were taken looking eastward, while the sun was setting in the west. It takes still clear air and a good horizon, but that’s what I had all week as I spent my time in prayer (and sleep, which is a form of prayer!) at the beautiful remote site north of Tucson.
Notice just above that dark shade, the sky looks rather pink-colored. This is called the Belt of Venus.
According to this Wikipedia article the Belt of Venus is called this “because when it is visible, Venus is typically seen in this region of the sky.” But of course, this is nonsense, as it is seen to the east while Venus when it is up is always seen to the west at sunset; given its orbit of the Sun inside Earth’s orbit, it is never more than 47 degrees away from the Sun. (It was not visible during my retreat.) Someone should fix Wikipedia! In fact, I haven’t a clue where that name came from.
The House of Prayer is close by the Redemptorist Renewal Center where we hold our biennial Faith and Astronomy Workshops, so many of our readers will know the area. But the House of Prayer, while also run by the Redemptorists, is a separate operation for silent retreats.