The evening star at its very best

We’ve been lately obsessed with the Evening Star, Venus.

With good reason. After the moon, Venus is the brightest thing in the night sky. Nothing else even comes close. No wonder civilizations through the ages worshiped it. And yet, these days, most people seem unaware of our sister planet, the nearest celestial body after the moon, the Evening Star.

Venus is not always there. Sometimes it’s behind the sun. Sometimes it’s very low, hidden in twilight behind hills and trees. Then for nine months at a time it’s only visible in the pre-dawn east, a gift for early risers.

When it does appear in the evening sky, it stays for nine months, but still its visibility depends on the slant of its orbit with the horizon.  Only if it reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun in early spring, does its orbit angle almost straight up from the sunset point. And that’s what’s happening right now.

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This week, Venus has reached its greatest separation from the sun while standing high above where the sun set. These are rare perfect conditions that make Venus appear as high up as is ever possible. But on top of that, Venus is also at its most brilliant. It will easily cast shadows when viewed away from all artificial lights against a white surface.  It’s highest at nightfall, around 8:30 p.m.

But we must savor it. Soon, in May, Venus will plunge lower and lower each evening, and then pass in front of the sun. And its wonderful evening sky apparition will be over.

Next year, Venus will be low and awful. However, since Venus orbits the sun 13 times in the same interval that earth makes eight circuits, this exact current apparition will repeat in 2028, almost to the day. But why start planning ahead?  Right now we have Venus in our grasp.

It’s the most spectacular presentation of the evening star we can ever see.