As the sun dips below the horizon, a radiant 'star' asserts its presence in the western sky. This celestial beacon is not a star, but rather the planet Venus, often referred to as our "evening star."
Venus: Earth's Celestial Twin
Venus, the third brightest naturally occurring object in our sky (after the Sun and Moon), owes its luminosity to its thick atmosphere. The dense cloud cover enveloping Venus excels at reflecting sunlight. Furthermore, its proximity to Earth and similar size to our home planet also contribute to its striking brightness.
Understanding Venus's Orbit
To comprehend Venus's trajectory in our sky, it's crucial to acknowledge its position as an interior planet. This means that its orbit around the Sun is closer than Earth's, and therefore shorter. It takes Venus just over 7 months to circumnavigate the Sun, compared to Earth's 12 months. This disparity means that every year, Venus will overtake us on the 'inside lane' at least once. Currently, Venus is in the process of catching up and will pass us on Sun, 13 Aug 2023, during what's known as 'inferior solar conjunction.'
Unfortunately, due to its proximity to the Sun during this event, we won't be able to observe Venus. However, we can watch its progressive descent towards the horizon every week until mid August when it will disappear from the evening sky.
After the inferior solar conjunction, Venus will reappear on the other side of the Sun just before sunrise. As we enter October, Venus will gradually ascend higher into the morning sky. Because Venus never strays more than 47 degrees from the Sun, it's most visible during sunset or sunrise. However, during a solar eclipse, like the one in 2017, Venus can be seen beside the temporarily obscured Sun.
The Phases of Venus
Just as our Moon goes through phases, so too does Venus. Currently, Venus appears as a crescent when viewed with a decent pair of binoculars. This is because Venus is approaching us, and we can see a portion of the planet illuminated by the Sun and a portion shrouded in darkness. The illuminated part will continue to diminish until the inferior solar conjunction, when Venus disappears from our view. However, by February, Venus will re-emerge before sunrise, and the illuminated crescent will gradually expand.
Artist's concept of the Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy (Veritas) spacecraft, a proposed mission for NASA's Discovery program that is currently at risk of being cancled.
Venus currently needs our help! learn more about the recently canceled NASA mission to venus and what you can do to help bring it back in our other blog post here: https://www.astrotours.org/post/venus-needs-our-help-support-nasa-s-veritas-mission
Take 2 minuets to visit the planetary society's action page using this link: https://secure.planetary.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=/actioncenter#/35 and voice your support for Venus exploration to your representatives
Witness Venus with AstroTours
If you're interested in witnessing the beauty of Venus up close, book an AstroTour this May/June/July. Experience the awe of observing Venus through a high-powered telescope before it transitions to the morning sky, not to be seen on our tours again until 2024.