Posted by: SteveInCO | 23 Apr 2012

Watch Venus As It Flies By!

Shortly after sunset, if you face west there is a very bright “star” in the sky:  Venus.  It’s easy to identify.  Someone once put it this way.  If you put three bags over your head and face the wrong way you might miss it.   It’s still above the horizon at 9-10 PM depending on your time zone, and it’s so bright you think it’s an airplane landing light or something like that.

It’s not going to be there for long.  Venus is about to “lap” us as it passes us up in its orbit, and when it does so it appears to move very fast in the sky; seen from one night to the next at identical times, it will drop like a rock now, after it has been hanging high in the evening sky for so long (about a month ago it was in a beautiful lineup with Jupiter, for instance).

By June 1st it will be low in the sky shortly after sunset, probably not visible in the glare of twilight, but if you can manage to see it, it will be 1/5th of a degree from Mercury (the full moon is half a degree wide).  Perhaps you could see both planets at the same time in a telescope if you knew where to point it, and have a good low-power/wide angle eyepiece.  You’ll have maybe 20 minutes to look for it right after sunset.

On June 6th, though, Venus will cross directly in front of the Sun.  That won’t happen again until late 2117. (That is not a typo!)  I’ll have a lot more to say about that as the date approaches.


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