All this year Earth’s sister planet has heated up the evening sky like a UFO. You’ve surely seen that dazzling “star” after sunset: This has been its best showing since 2015. That eight-year interval is no accident. So happens, Venus takes 224.8 days to orbit the Sun, so that 13 of its “years” (13 x 224.8) is the same number of days as eight Earth years (8 x 365.25). They both work out to 2,922 days. What this means is that after eight years, we on Earth see an exact duplicate of Venusian behavior. So just like this year, in 2015 we saw Venus shine brilliantly in the west the first half of the year and reach its very highest-up position in May and June when it didn’t set until after midnight — very unusual behavior for that inner planet. And then attain greatest brilliancy in late June and early July.
This major eye-catching presence (it’s one of only three celestial objects that can cast steady shadows) is now in its final weeks. But it’s most spectacular just before it vanishes, as it now reaches a milestone we won’t see again until 2031 — its greatest brilliancy AND impressive height above the horizon at nightfall. If you have Venus visible in a dark rural place without artificial lights, spread a sheet on the ground and watch your shadow get cast by Venus-light! Notice the strange extreme sharpness of the shadow’s outline, a contrast from the familiar shadows cast by the Sun and Moon, which always have fuzzy borders.
Venus currently looks like a half-Moon through any telescope. Night by night it grows larger as it races toward Earth at the rate of a half-million miles a day. In a month will be big enough to display phases even through binoculars, as it gets larger while its crescent simultaneously grows thinner.
Catch it at around 9 to 9:30 p.m. And enjoy gazing at something 100 times brighter than spring’s most brilliant true stars. While it’s still there.