Trust Your Heart

This week Venus and Mars make their closest approach to one another, looking west Friday evening, June 30th, an hour after sunset. But while Venus is brilliant as evening star, Mars is faint, and even kind of hard to spot at first. What’s going on there?

Venus is the third brightest object in our sky after Sun and Moon, and recently I’ve been talking about how, even though the Moon can outshine Venus, it never will, because it will only pass by the planet when it’s at crescent phase. This is because Venus never gets very far away from the Sun, and when the Moon is in similar proximity to the Sun, it will appear to be a crescent, never gibbous never full.

The same kind of thing is happening with Mars. When Mars is in the same region of sky with Venus, that means that for us on Earth, it is furthest away along its path around the Sun, so it appears to be much more dim than when it is on the part of its path that brings it closest to us.

This phenomenon, that Mars dims when Venus is near, has inspired some amazing mythology and even cultural psychology through nearly every age of human history, as in the idea that love conquers war.

Botticelli’s Venus and Mars is a perfect depiction of how Mars fades when his beloved Venus is near.

Taking the image a step further, what’s happening in the current encounter between these planets is that Mars is fading from view while Venus is readying to turn retrograde, which is a bit like Eurydice falling back into the underworld when Orpheus turns too soon to see if she is behind him.

I like to imagine these words from ee cummings (from his poem Dive for Dreams) as Venus’ message to her beloved as he fades and she steps back, sort a gesture of their eternal bond, despite appearances:

trust your heart

if the seas catch fire

(and live by love

though the stars walk backward).

Hear this episode on Interlochen Public Radio Monday morning, June 26, 2023,

and on podcasts everywhere, anytime!

Cover image by Sky&Telescope.