Venus is the undisputed star of the night sky this year.
Venus is now in our southwestern sky for about two hours after sunset, much like a resplendent star showgirl, currently starring every night in her dazzling performance. Viewed during evening twilight, this planet appears startlingly bright to the naked eye, and even more so in binoculars.
For those who observe it from week to week in telescopes, it is ever-changing and fascinating. More on that shortly.
Related: Venus: The second hottest planet from the Sun
Summit meetings with other worlds
A fairly close conjunction of Venus and ringed Saturn will occur on Sunday (January 22).
Then, on the evening of March 1, Venus and Jupiter will hold another celestial rendezvous, appearing only half a degree apart. They will appear side by side, Venus twinkling to Jupiter’s right. At magnitude -4.0, Venus will be about six times brighter than its yellow neighbor.
Less than a week ago, a 2.5-day-old crescent moon will form a stunning narrow isosceles triangle, with Jupiter and the moon just 1.5 degrees apart, and Venus located 7 degrees below both. Here’s a challenge for amateur photographers: try to capture the two planets, the narrow sliver of the crescent moon (only 9% illuminated by the Sun), with some Earth’s brightness on the unlit portion, and any residual aurora glow darkening the western horizon.
Read more: What time is the conjunction of Venus and Saturn on Sunday (January 22)?
Night with Venus
This will develop into the exceptional evening appearance of Venus. Back on January 13, the planet set about 90 minutes after sunset and — for the first time — right after the end of evening twilight in completely dark skies. From then on, those who watch it night by night over the following weeks and months will notice it making an unusual journey far into the deep night sky, coming to about 3 1/2 hours after the Sun by the third week of May.
Many astronomy books often say that Venus is often out of sight by around midnight, which makes it very hard to believe that Venus will stay up until 11:45 PM DST during this upcoming time frame in mid-May. This will be after midnight for those who live in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Des Moines, and Salt Lake City. In extreme cases, it could be after 12:30 a.m. in daylight saving time hours in some cities far west of standard meridians, such as Boise, Bismarck, Indianapolis, and Flint.
The show runs into early summer
On May 21, look for the bright planet Venus below the “twin stars” of the constellation Gemini, Castor and Pollux. To the upper left of the Gemini twins will be Mars, and far to the lower right of Venus will be a slender crescent moon. The next night, the moon will have approached Venus.
On June 4, it reached its easternmost elongation. It will then be 45 degrees from the Sun, one-eighth of the way around the ecliptic. At an intensity of -4.3, the planet would certainly be eye-catching, almost twice as bright as it appears to us now.
Right after sunset on June 21 — the first day of summer — gaze west-northwest for a beautiful crescent moon, accompanied to its lower left by the planet Venus.
Between now and July, repeated observations of Venus with a small telescope will show the full range of its phases and disk sizes. The planet is currently displaying a spectacularly small disk (93% illuminated). It will become noticeably less hunchbacked by mid-spring.
In early June, Venus reaches a binary (displaying a “half-moon” shape). Then, for the rest of spring and into early summer, an increasingly large crescent moon is seen swinging close to the ground. In fact, those using telescopes will notice that as the distance between Earth and Venus diminishes, the apparent size of Venus’ disk will grow and double from its current size by May 27. The figure should be easily visible even in 7 constant force binoculars.
Transition to the dawn sky
The time when Venus reaches the peak of its great brilliance comes halfway between its greatest elongation and conjunction with the Sun – on July 7 – when it reaches magnitude -4.7. With this burst of glory, Venus will quickly slide into the solar glare, and will be just two hours shy of the sun and shortly before the end of evening twilight tonight.
However, by the end of July, it will set only about 25 minutes after sunset and will give up its duration as a prominent evening object.
But the “Venus Show” will not end, for the repeat show begins in mid-August, this time in the morning sky and as the sequence of events reverses, reaching peak brilliance again on September 19, glowing like a beacon in the dawning eastern sky.
On November 9, be sure to set your alarm clock for 5 a.m., and head outside to a location with an unobstructed view east-northeast to witness the most dramatic Venus-Moon pairing of 2023. Finally, on Christmas morning Those attending Mass early in the morning will see Venus shining like a brilliant “star in the east,” rising about three hours before sunrise.
Really this is the year of Venus!
If you don’t have all the equipment you need to see Venus this year, our guides to the best telescopes and best binoculars are a great place to start. If you’re looking to take pictures of Venus or something else in the night sky, check out our guides on the best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography.
Editor’s note: If you took a great photo of Venus this year and would like to share it with Space.com readers, send your photo(s), comments, name, and location to email@example.com.
Joe Rao is a teacher and guest lecturer in New York Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History Journalthe Farmers’ almanac and other publications. Follow us @employee (Opens in a new tab)or in Facebook (Opens in a new tab) And Instagram (Opens in a new tab).