The Green Flash of Venus!

eg Lutes

I've always wanted to see the green flash of the Sun. As of today, I'm still waiting to see it. However, during the last trip to New Mexico in October 1997, I saw a beautiful green flash, but is wasn't from the Sun.

It all started after sunset on Tuesday, October 28, as we began to observe. We all noticed a bright light in the western sky -- the planet Venus. Its brightness was actually a nuisance; in some respects, it was a source of light pollution. We all were anxious for it to set so we could do some serious dark sky observing. One of the group must have been patiently keeping an eye on Venus because about one minute before it set, she yelled out, "I think I see Venus changing colors!" I looked with the unaided eye as it finally set and saw it change to a reddish-orange color. Others saw colors too.

On the next night (Wednesday, October 29th), I was prepared to watch Venus set with my compact 8x23 binoculars. During the last three to four seconds, I saw Venus turn to a medium forest green color. I was thrilled to witness this. Others also saw Venus flash green.

On Thursday night (October 30), I watched Venus set using a 40mm ocular on my 121/2-inch, f/6, scope. The planet's image was bloated and shimmering. As I observed it, the top one-third of the planet's image was alternating from blue to green and back to a blue color. The middle one-third was a constant yellow, and the bottom one-third (closest to the horizon) was alternating from a reddish to orange color. As the planet shimmered, it reminded me of a dancing flame. A few seconds before Venus set, it slid behind a juniper or pinon tree growing on the ridge in the foreground. It created a stunning silhouette. After it emerged from behind the tree, it quickly sank below a clear horizon.

But the show continued -- then I saw the "glow" of Venus reach up above the horizon and create something like a sunset! This phenomenon lasted for about 3 seconds. I'm not sure what to call this event, but maybe it should be called a "Venus set". (You couldn't even conceive of viewing such a phenomenon in our light-polluted sky back here!)

I didn't expect to see something like this, and it sure was thrilling. Needless to say, watching Venus set on those three nights made the trip to Gran Quivira all the more worthwhile and gave me some wonderful memories.

Published in the January 1998 issue of the NightTimes