Venus Will Soon Unleash Its Brilliant Star Power

August 2, 2016

Currently, the planet Venus is visible very low in the western evening sky right after sundown. Those with obstructions such as trees or buildings toward the west may not be able to see Venus yet due to its very low altitude. But this current evening apparition of Venus is going to evolve into a very good one in the coming days and weeks, so let’s get into a fuller explanation of what is to come.

Venus passed superior conjunction, when it appears to go directly behind the sun as seen from Earth, back on June 6. Initially, it was mired deep in the brilliant glare of the sun. Nonetheless, in the days that followed it moved on a steady — albeit very slow — course toward the east and gradually pulled away from the sun’s vicinity.

And now, as we make the transition from July into August, Venus has finally begun climbing up out of the sunset glow in earnest and is about to reclaim its role as the brilliant “evening star,” a title it has not held since one year ago. Look for it now by scanning with binoculars shortly after sundown very low in the western sky.

Venus will stand about 10 degrees high in the western sky at sundown (your clenched fist held at arm’s length is about 10 degrees wide) and will touch the horizon about 50 minutes after sunset, giving less-experienced skywatchers the chance to get a good glimpse.

During August, it will be interesting to watch as Venus and Jupiter converge on each other in the evening sky. In contrast to Venus, Jupiter is now fast departing into the west after sundown. Venus is even lower in the sunset than Jupiter for most of August.

However, Venus is nearly eight times brighter and is working its way slowly upward as the weeks go by. Venus and Jupiter move 1 degree closer together each evening until reaching a very close conjunction on Aug. 27, when they’ll be less than 0.1 degrees apart as seen from the eastern half of North America. This event will be worth a special trip with binoculars to someplace commanding a scenic view of the western horizon.

During September Venus should become a bit easier to see. By Oct. 1, it will set about 30 degrees south of due west nearly 75 minutes after sunset. Venus will continue to swing east of the sun as the fall season progresses, and it will become plainly visible in the southwestern evening sky even to the most casual of observers by Thanksgiving.

Appearing as a brilliant silvery-white star-like object of magnitude -4.3, our sister planet will set almost four hours after the sun by Christmas Day. In fact, if the air is very clear and the sky a clean, deep blue, you might try looking for Venus shortly before sunset. As the sky darkens, it will seem to swell from a tiny white spark to a big, almost dazzling Christmas-season star.

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