Belt of Venus

The Great "Belt of Venus"

Everyone has more than likely witnessed such a phenomena before but probably didn't know what a unique phenomena they were looking at. The "Belt of Venus" is an atmospheric optical phenomena but could also be considered a space phenomena as well, and is visible during civil twilight before sunrise and sunset. It is named in association with the Greek Goddess Aphrodite and the Roman Goddess Venus … not with our planet Venus.

Because of the higher latitudes of Alaska, this spectacular phenomena can be especially brilliant due to a longer solar depression angle of our rising and setting sun. It is pink due to sunlight scattering and shining through denser atmosphere and the lower darker edge defining the arc is the shadow of the Earth being cast into space. This phenomena is similar to Alpenglow which creates the intense reddish or pink glow on mountain peaks and just beyond the horizon.

In the top picture, the Belt of Venus is one of the more pronounced I have ever witnessed. This beautiful scene is above the eastern Alaska Range and Clearwater Mountains. The three crepuscular shadows converging at left of center are the shadows of Mt. Foraker, Hunter, and Denali Summits still being struck by sunset.

The second image is of moonrise right at the edge of the Belt of Venus … which can be seen just above the Clearwater Mountains in the top panorama. The third image shows the Belt at moonset/sunrise over the huge peaks of Mt. Foraker, Hunter and Denali. Crepuscular shadows are slightly visible at center-right … likely from the opposite massive peaks in the Eastern Alaska Range.

The fourth image shows the Belt at moonrise/sunset over the northwestern Chugach Mountains. Depending on the lunar phases, the moon will be placed differently within the Belt. The fifth image shows a very vivid Belt at winter sunrise over Mt. Foraker, Hunter and Denali. The brightness and size of the Belt of Venus certainly shows different aspects through the seasonal changes of the North Country.

So next time you see this phenomena, you'll understand that it is sunlight and Earth's shadow stretching out into space … as well, if things were lined up perfectly, there would also be a lunar eclipse at the same time!

All images © Dave Parkhurst