A game ends and the player walks around the net so as to play the next game from the other end. She is, let’s say, Venus Williams of the U.S.A., playing against Marion Bartoli of France in 2007. That match, I’ve just read, holds a record among Wimbledon finals in that it was between the two lowest “seeds” ever: Williams was seeded 23 and Bartoli 18, and the situation had arisen because Bartoli had defeated the top seed, Justine Henin of Belgium, in the semifinal. Williams won 6-4 6-1, and also won the Wimbledon final on other occasions (as did Henin and Bartoli), but when she played against her sister Serena she lost more often than not.
I had to look this stuff up because it’s been long since I followed tennis news. I used to be keen on it, but lost interest after Wimbledon was opened to players who had turned professional and thus won boringly often, whereas I wanted them to be an unpredicted mixture, especially if they had relishable names or were from unlikely countries (Jaroslav Drobny, representing Egypt); and after it became so popular, which may have been a related development. I had loved to play tennis, too, and had a fine style with a sculptural backhand but no great will to win, later had fewer chances to play, and my habit of playing barefoot was a handicap on roasting hot surfaces in California.
Venus, the planet, has been serving from the morning sky – perhaps losing that game, in other words not standing so high and bright as she can. (See the Venus scenes on page 69 of Astronomical Calendar 2014). Venus is often thought of as “lost” when in the morning sky, as she has been for most of this year. On the whole we are awake and outdoors more often in the evening, and all but madcap astrophiles are asleep in the pre-dawn hours; I’m in a phase of life where it’s the other way around – I’m out under the sky before dawn, and awake but inside at sunset – so I’ve been seeing a lot of Venus. She has been walking down toward the dividing net, the Sun (passing on October 17 an impudent ball-boy named Mercury skipping in the opposite direction), and on Oct. 25 crosses into the court of the evening. This is the date of the superior conjunction, when Venus travels around on the far side of the umpire sitting on his high chair, that is, the Sun.
At this superior conjunction Venus passes about a degree north of the Sun. In one of the years of the 8-year Venus cycle – as in June of 2000, 2008, and 2016 – the planet passes closely enough behind the far wider Sun that it is occulted, hidden, though this of course is academic: we cannot see it. Another curious thing about these superior conjunctions, also merely theoretical, is that Venus if we could see it would rise slightly in brightness, because of being full-face to us, like a little Full Moon.
The October Sun with Venus behind it is in eastern Virgo (Spica in the remote background a little to the west). By December Venus will be climbing quite rapidly. and by next May will be nearly 40 degrees above the sunset horizon and serving aces of light.
There is a tennis-player in the sky.
It’s easy to find the Pole Star by using the two end stars of the Big Dipper’s bowl as pointers, but at times when the Big Dipper is low it’s not so easy to use Cassiopeia, the prominent constellation on the other side of the north celestial pole. In the five stars of Cassiopeia’s W-shape, there is no line pointing toward the pole. So my suggestion is that the W forms the arms of a tennis player in the act of serving. The Pole Star is the ball she has thrown up. Evidently as it comes down she is going to smack it at high speed in the direction of Gemini.
(This is actually copied from the new edition of my children’s book, To Know the Stars, page 51.)