Venus Returns To The Evening Sky In Grand Style Tonight

Venus returns like a spring flower to evening twilight this month. This was the view last night 35 minutes after sunset looking low in the northwestern sky. Photo: Bob King

Guess who’s finally come out of hiding? Yep, it’s Venus, a planet we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of for months. Venus has been masked by the sun’s glare since late January for northern hemisphere sky watchers. Not anymore.

Like a child letting go of her parents, the brightest planet of them all is finally stepping away from the sun. You can see her for yourself chaperoned by a remarkably thin moon low in the northwestern sky beginning 20-30 minutes after sunset tonight.

I made my first attempt to catch a glimpse of the planet last night, figuring it might only show in binoculars. Boy, was I surprised. Although only 4 degrees high, Venus jumped right out in binoculars and was also plainly seen without optical aid. I followed the lovely “evening star” from 20 minutes past sunset for at least another 20 minutes before it sunk into the trees.

Watch for a wonderful close conjunction of returning Venus and a one-day-old crescent moon tonight. This map shows the sky facing west-northwest 30 minutes after sunset. Tomorrow night the moon will have moved up and away from the planet toward its next encounter with Jupiter. Stellarium

Tonight will be an extra special one for Venus watchers. The goddess of beauty and love will be joined by an extremely thin crescent moon for a brief time after sunset. I encourage you to find a spot with wide open view to the west-northwest to see the show.

Find your sunset time HERE and then arrive at your selected spot a few minutes after sundown. Bring binoculars so you can start scanning about 20 minutes later. Look a short distance to the left of the “sunset point”, that telltale bright glow along the horizon indicating where the sun has gone down. I don’t which you’ll see first – moon or planet – but once you find one, you’ll find the other. They should be a ravishing sight in binoculars!

By tomorrow night the moon will be well above Venus on its way toward Jupiter. Speaking  of which, Jove and Venus – with Mercury thrown in for good fun – will have their own close encounter May 27-29. The triple gathering promises to be the naked-eye highlight of the month, but more on that later.

The ever-changing geometry between Earth and Venus as the two planets orbit the sun causes Venus to go through phases just like the moon. In the evening sky, the planet is to the left or east of the sun; when visible at dawn, it’s to the right or west of the sun. Illlustration: Bob King

If the weather doesn’t cooperate tonight, you can use the moon again Saturday night to point you to the planet. Venus gleams about one fist held at arm’s length to the lower right of the lunar crescent.

As spring gives way to summer, Venus will pull away from the sun and slowly become more easily visible at dusk. Right now it’s on the far side of the sun from Earth and appears like a tiny full moon through a telescope. During the remainder of the year its phase will change from full to half (at Halloween) and finally a crescent at Christmas as the speedier planet catches up with our own.

2 Responses

  1. Edward M. Boll

    Now that comets Panstaars and Lemmon are faint, I am going to spend May watching Venus, Mercury and Jupiter come close together. It is possible in late May to see both Jupiter and Venus below Mercury, a rare sight to see 2 planets below the close to Sun planet Mercury.

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