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Venus, the “orphan boy,” returns to the evening sky

BY AMY SAYLE

In the last few weeks, Venus has returned to our western early evening sky. Look toward the same direction that the Sun set to see Venus shining very brightly as an “evening star.”

Although Venus is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, not everyone has thought of this planet as female. 

Image: Ultraviolet image of Venus’ clouds as seen by the Pioneer Venus Orbiter, Feb. 5, 1979 (Credit: NASA)

According to a Maasai story, the planet is a boy named Kileken who comes to live with an old man. Kileken tells the old man that he is an orphan who has traveled countless miles searching for a home. 

The old man is delighted to have company. Kileken insists on doing all the chores, finishing them each morning before the old man awakens. When drought comes and the grass dies, the old man is amazed when his cattle mysteriously stay fat, their bellies full from good grazing.

How can this be, the old man asks. Kileken explains that he has a special power. But the power must remain a secret—or else the old man’s good fortune will vanish. 

Burning with curiosity, the old man ignores Kileken’s warning and sneaks outside early one morning to witness Kileken’s hidden power. What he discovers results in Kileken exploding in a blinding light and returning to the sky as Venus, the brightest of all the planets.

You can read this story in Tololwa Mollel’s children’s book The Orphan Boy, which is available at many libraries. 

Or if you’d like to hear this and other African star stories told aloud, please join Morehead for these programs:

•    Stagville Under the StarsFriday, Feb. 6, 2015, at Historic Stagville. Arrive by 6 p.m. for the storytelling. Afterwards, if the weather permits, we’ll have telescope viewing. But you won’t need a telescope to spot Kileken—the planet Venus is noticeably brighter than any star in the night sky.

•    Star Families: African SkiesSaturday, Feb. 7, 2015, at Morehead Planetarium, at 3:30 p.m. Outside it’ll be daytime, but inside the fulldome theater we’ll use our planetarium magic to show you Kileken and a whole lot more in the evening sky.

Image: Ultraviolet image of Venus’ clouds as seen by the Pioneer Venus Orbiter, Feb. 5, 1979 (Credit: NASA)