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Belt of Venus: the Other Side of Oregon / Washington Coast Sunset

Published 03/02/21 at 6:20 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Belt of Venus: the Other Side of Oregon / Washington Coast Sunset

(Portland, Oregon) – Bouncing around the beaches of the Oregon coast and Washington coast on a clear day means there's the ultimate reward at the end of it: a stunning sunset. As the ol' orb descends and the colors change, shift and explode into variations, you can't keep your eyes off it. (Belt of Venus caught in Seaside, 2016: that's the pinkish band across the sky.)

Yet you could be missing out on something else almost as big – as large as the Earth itself, really. Look to the other side of that sunset and see what's taking place. There's a whole effect happening there with different colors and shades.

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Jim Todd, astronomer with Portland's OMSI, gave Oregon Coast Beach Connection an incredibly cool inside look into the floating phenom called the Belt of Venus.

“On the next clear evening, look for what is called the Belt of Venus - named after the Roman goddess of love, offering stunning views,” Todd said. “Viewers go out to watch beautiful sunsets at the Oregon beaches, they rarely think to turn away from the sunset in the west and see the fairly subtle effect of the Belt of Venus on the opposite side of the sky.”

Look for a purple band in the low horizon - sometimes bright pink, sometimes much subtler.

Photo courtesy Luis Argerich: The Belt of Venus Over Mercedes, Argentina

You need a clear sky on the eastern side of the world - and yes, you can see this anywhere and not just the coastline. Seattle, Vancouver B.C., Montreal, Freiburg Im Breisgau in Germany, to North Bend, Manzanita and Madras and everywhere else: it's all Belt of Venus territory.

“At sunset, locating an unobstructed eastern horizon and clear sky will increase your chances of seeing the dark blue of the earth's shadow capped by the pinkish band,” Todd said. “You will be looking opposite the sunset direction, roughly 30 to 60 minutes after sunset. Earth's shadow can be seen in the eastern sky at the same rate that the sun sets below the western horizon.”

It shows up in various shadings, not always as brilliant as the Argentinian scene above. Oregon Coast Beach Connection has found it in the most subtle of variations at times, and it wasn't until recently that the phenomenon was noticed by staff in older photos.

One of the more prominent occurrences is the shot here, from Manzanita, taken in 2004. In fact, we were trying to photograph the moon above Manzanita. It took until 2021 for us to realize what else we'd caught. You can just barely see the dark shadow of the Earth at the bottom.

“The dark band of the Earth's shadow at dusk and dawn often has a light pink arch above it, known as the Belt of Venus,” Todd said. “It extends about a few degrees up from the horizon, acting as a boundary between the shadow and the sky. The effect is due to the reddened sunlight being backscattered in the atmosphere, which produces the pinkish glow.”

It's perhaps even more evident in this shot of Manzanita taken around 2012 from the Neahkahnie Overlooks.

Another curious instance is this especially surreal capture of a partial eclipse years ago in Portland. You're looking to the east from a street off Barbur Boulevard, with an old smokestack near the moon as it gets red as part of the eclipse. Because of the long exposure, part of the flight path of a jet is caught as well.

About the level of the jet you see the pinkish band across the horizon: that's the Belt of Venus. Here, it's a bit hazy because of Portland's air quality on a warm day in September.


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Another find is this shot to the east of Lincoln City from about 2009, looking down the Siletz River. Again, capturing the moon and those clouds was the intention, but there's clearly a pinkish band as well.

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