[Editor’s note: This piece was written in early March 2023.]
Over the past two weeks, I have received several inquiries regarding the two ‘strange lights’ appearing in the western night sky just after sunset. So. . .
Venus and Jupiter have aligned again just like they did back in February 1999 when I was able capture the conjunction on 35 mm film.
Last evening, I decided to leave the office at 5:00 p.m. and return to one of my favorite platforms on our planet to chronicle the wonders of our universe, the overlook in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just 45 minutes from downtown Las Vegas.
Venus is the brighter of the two planets, the second from our Sun and the closest to Earth. Only 400 miles smaller in diameter, it comes the closest is size to any other planet to Earth. Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun, nearly 11 times larger than Earth and the largest in our solar system.
Arriving at my spot, I photographed Venus with an apparent magnitude of -4.0, (only the Sun (-26.7) and the Moon (-12.7) are brighter).
The Wilson Cliffs Thrust of the Keystone Fault system is pictured in the foreground. Once the floor of an ocean more than 225 million years ago, the fault was thrust above what had become a desert floor about 65 million years ago when two crustal plates of the earth’s surface collided and minerals embedded in its sandstone layers oxidized giving its distinctive multicolored signature. Fifteen years ago when I was on the faculty of the College of Southern Nevada teaching an astronomy lab I was asked to take astronomer John Dobson who was in town to lecture on the ‘big bang’ theory out to Red Rock Canyon. (His name may sound to be familiar as he designed the Dobsonian telescope, a low cost portable Newtonian reflector.) During his lecture, the evening before he hypothesized that a large meteorite had struck the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico around 66 million years ago, about the same time the large dinosaurs disappeared from the Earth and that the impact may have been the cause of their extinction. Once we arrived at Red Rock Canyon, he told me he wished he had more time to explore the vista, as he was positive evidence of the Yucatan extinction event was waiting to be discovered on the face of the thrust. I then drove him to the airport and he returned to San Francisco. Known internationally as the ‘Sidewalk Astronomy Evangelist,’ he died in 2014 at the age of 98. Of all the celebrities I have had the good fortune of meeting during my career I place him high on my list.
Astronomy, paleontology, and geology we have it all here in the desert with enough food for thought to keep the curious mind engaged for a lifetime.
So wherever you are, when you drive home this evening, if you are still wondering what those two bright objects in the western night sky are, just remember Las Vegas has much, much more to offer than the illumination on the Strip.
About this article: This article was originally published in the “Natural Resources” issue of Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (May 2023). See https://clarkcountybar.org/member-benefits/communique-2023/communique-may-2023/.
About the photo
Venus and Jupiter photo by John Mowbray.
About the author
John Mowbray is the Managing Partner of the Spencer Fane Las Vegas office and is a distinguished member of Nevada’s legal community. As a past president of the State Bar of Nevada and Clark County Bar Association, he is well-regarded throughout the region for his knowledge of law and high level of dedication to client service. John concentrates his practice on commercial litigation as well as real estate and ethics and professional responsibility.
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