In Manhattan, the beauty of the night sky is only a faded metaphor, the shopworn verse of an outdated love song. The stars shine no brighter at midnight in midtown than the ones depicted on the time—dimmed ceiling of the waiting room at Grand Central Terminal. The eternal orange glow of the city lights leaves only the faintest hints of the blackness beyond. And when the sky is truly clear and the clouds do not reflect this amber aura, the brightness of the city environs constrict the pupils so much that only the moon can be seen on most evenings. But over the last few weeks it has been possible, even in Manhattan, to watch the evening star—Venus—descending in the west, presenting her orbit, edgewise, to viewers on Earth.
Venus is the luminous body hanging over New Jersey to the west in the early evening. In spite of the fact that it emanates no light of its own—only reflecting light from its neighbor and provider, the sun—it is brighter than any heavenly object visible from Earth except the sun and the moon. For the moment, Venus becomes apparent at twilight, about a third of the way up the western sky, and it sets around 11. Every night people go to bed wondering what strangely bright star that is. To those who live in New York City, it may be the only star they see when trapped on this tiny little island. Whatever the case, in the morning no one remembers that luminous body any longer.
To say, as one must, that Venus is not a star but a planet seems ungrateful, almost pedantic. Astronomers might have us know that this distinction is not a mere splitting of hairs, but the most basic of divisions, not unlike that of plants and animals. Be that as it may, it is the kind of technicality the English essayist Charles Lamb had in mind when defending the generosity of his personal ignorance almost 200 years ago. "I guess at Venus, " he wrote, "only by her brightness. " Lamb was no Copernican, and neither are most of us. We are little Ptolemies every one. The sun rises and sets upon us. When one lies upon a meadow late at night, etherized by the fullness of the sky, it is all one can do to imagine the simplest of celestial motions—the pivoting of constellations around the North Star. To impart to each point of light the motions that are proper to it—to do the unimaginable calculus of all those interfering rotations, those intersecting gravities—is simply impossible. It is easier to imagine that one is staring at the ceiling of a celestial waiting room, forever spinning around and around above our heads.
But at the moment, one can almost picture the motion of Venus in its orbit, as if one were looking at a diagram of the solar system. Imagine a line between the sun, at sunset, and Venus, glittering high above the horizon. That, roughly speaking, is the path of the Venusian orbit. When Venus moves toward Earth, as it is doing now, it is the evening star, and when it moves away from Earth, it is the morning star. Even this, to some, might seem like a stretch of the abilities of conceptualization, but it is worth the challenge. For if one can muddle through this mental errand for a moment, it will become clear that a change is about to take place. The moment of transition will occur on June 10, when Venus passes between the sun and Earth. As May wears on, Venus will appear nearer and nearer the sun, until the planet is engulfed by twilight. Venus will come back into view, at dawn, sometime in late July.
For now, the evening star—Hesperus, as it was anciently known—is a steadily waning crescent, no matter how star—like or globular its light appears. It will not return to its present position until sometime in December 1997. And who knows where we will be by then? Surely someone, but not me, not one of the little Ptolemies, that stares up into the night sky and sees a most beautiful display, arranged every night for his personal enjoyment.
Which of the following would support the author's phrase, "We are little Ptolemies " (3rd paragraph)?[A] Most people visualize the night sky from a geocentric point of view and in this way are unable to understand the complex paths of the numerous celestial motions in space.
[B] Most people are not as knowledgeable about space as Copernicus or Ptolemy and for them, it is impossible to understand the complexities of numerous celestial motions in space.
[C] Those who have studied astronomy are the ones most likely to understand the complexities of numerous celestial motions in space.
[D] Those who are aware that Venus is a planet and not a star are still likely to refer to Venus as a star because of its beauty and resemblance to a star in the night sky.
Taking into account all the points made within the context of the passage, the author would most likely support which of the following statements?[A] Venus can be observed in the sky only once every several years and only between May and late July.
[B] Venus may be observed first in the western sky and then in the eastern sky between May and late July.
[C] Without the astronomical skills of Copernicus, those on Earth are unable to comprehend Venus' orbit even though they may identify it by its brightness.
[D] Environmental and clean—up efforts should be made in Manhattan so that Venus and the other wonders of the night sky are again visible to those that reside there.
According to the passage, Hesperus is best observed in the evening when:[A] Venus is moving toward Earth.
[B] Venus is moving away from Earth.
[C] Venus is passing between the sun and Earth.
[D] the sun's brightness does not make it impossible to see Venus without the aid of a telescope.
In the passage, the author describes the beauty of the night sky as all of the following EXCEPT:[A] pivoting constellations.
[B] a verse in an old love song.
[C] a celestial waiting room.
[D] a stationary display of ethereal lights.
The existence of which of the following would most strongly conflict with the author's explanation of the motion of Venus in its orbit?[A] A scientific article which asserts that Venus moves toward Earth every winter and spring
[B] A scientific article which asserts that Venus may be seen as one of the many points of light surrounding the North Star only at certain times of year
[C] A scientific article which asserts that in late July, Venus will be moving away from Earth
[D] A scientific article which asserts that, standing in the polluted streets of Manhattan, it is impossible to view Venus descending in the west
According to information given within the context of the passage, Hesperus is known as the evening star for all of the following reasons EXCEPT:[A] as Hesperus passes between the sun and Earth, it is globular in form and appears star—like.
[B] until June 10, Hesperus can only be seen at twilight until about eleven o'clock at night.
[C] Hesperus' path toward Earth can be observed only in the evening as it descends in the western sky.
[D] except for the sun and the moon, Hesperus is sometimes the brightest object visible from Earth during the early evening.