The Plot Thickens

Hi, I’m Karen Meadows. Thank you for visiting The Plot Thickens.

I’m lucky enough to be the tenant of one of fifty large allotment gardens in the middle of the small and beautiful stone town of Stamford in England’s East Midlands. The gardens were first created by Brownlow Cecil, 4th Marquess of Exeter in the mid 1800s and their layout has remained virtually unchanged. Between the plots we have some 200 old apple trees, many of them rare varieties, and in 2017 Natural England awarded the gardens heritage orchard status.

Over the centuries at least 500 people have worked these plots. Follow our quest to discover who they were, what they grew, and what shenanigans they got up to. Be prepared for numerous diversions and musings along the way about gardening life here in our quiet (and occasionally not so quiet) little corner of Stamford.

If you haven’t discovered our website yet, do head over to Waterfurlong Orchard Gardens, where you will find a wealth of information about our gardens and gardeners, past and present.

And now for the small print...

The Plot Thickens is a non-commercial blog. All recommendations are based on personal preference and my own or our other gardeners’ own experience. Payments or free goods are not accepted in return for reviews of products and services. If an exception is made this will be clearly stated.

All words and images, unless otherwise credited, are my own. If you would like to copy text or images, I’d kindly ask that The Plot Thickens gets a positive mention and a link back to this blog.

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Stargazing: Venus, Diamond-Bright

Photograph of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter by Sally J Smith © Copyright.

Today on the autumnal equinox we have a special sight in the night sky if the clouds clear - Venus at her most brilliant. Look for the planet in the western heavens shortly after sunset when she reaches her 'greatest illuminated extent'. Venus always shines as the third brightest celestial body (after the sun and moon) but at her most illuminated she is about two and a half times brighter than at her dimmest. Far more dazzling than any of the true stars in the sky, Venus does not appear to twinkle, but instead glows with a steady, silvery light

PHOSPHORUS AND HESPERUS

Venus is known as 'wandering', being one of the first celestial bodies to appear in the evening and last to disappear in the morning, but never visible late at night owing to her position between Earth and the Sun. At the moment Venus is brighter in the evening sky, but on 26 October she will become more luminous in the morning sky instead.

This pattern led the Greeks and Egyptians to believe Venus was two separate celestial objects. The early ancient Greeks named the morning star Phosphorus, 'the bringer of light', and the evening star Hesperus, 'the star of the evening'. A few hundred years later, the Hellenistic Greeks realised Venus was a single planet - a fact already deduced by the Babylonians in the 8th century BC.

WHAT MAKES VENUS SO BRIGHT?

As our immediate neighbour, Venus is relatively close to Earth but this isn’t the only reason the planet appears so bright. Compare and contrast with Mars, which waxes and wanes considerably in its luminosity. With Venus, something else is going on. Astronomers use the term albedo to describe a planet's brightness in absolute terms. When sunlight strikes a planet, some of the light is absorbed by the planet’s surface or atmosphere – and some is reflected. Albedo expresses how much light strikes an object and how much is reflected back.

It's not surprising to learn that Venus has the highest albedo of any major planet in our solar system, reflecting back about 70 percent of the sunlight striking it.

Despite the moon appearing to be so bright, it reflects only about 10 percent of the light that hits it. The moon’s low albedo is due to its surface of dark, volcanic rock. It appears bright only because of its proximity to Earth (about a light-second away, in contrast to several light-minutes for Venus).

Venus has such a high albedo because it is blanketed in highly-reflective clouds. These clouds contain droplets of sulphuric acid, as well as acidic crystals suspended in a mixture of gases. Sunlight bounces easily off the smooth surfaces of the droplets and crystals, creating the brightness we associate with the planet.

Even so, Venus isn’t the most reflective body in our solar system - that honour goes to Enceladus, a moon of Saturn. Its icy surface reflects some 90% of the sunlight striking it, but unlike Venus there is no chance of spotting Enceladus with the naked eye.

TO LEARN MORE

Visit www.earthsky.org and www.solarsystem.nasa.gov

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018


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