Man, Venus is high at dusk. I was driving home over the weekend expecting to see it near the horizon. Instead it stood a fist high in the western sky an hour after sundown. And bright, too! Venus has moved from challenging to easy. With its altitude gain, the planet isn’t as compromised by twilight as it was a few weeks ago.
If you haven’t gone out to greet the goddess, April’s a great time to do it. Venus remains moderately high in the western-northwestern sky throughout spring. As it slowly climbs away from the sun, the winter stars, now in the western sky and sinking a degree a day, meet and pass the shiny planet. The most anticipated meeting will be with the Pleiades in late April. On the 22nd the two will be only 3.5° apart and make a fantastic sight with or without optical aid.
As an inner planet, Venus has phases just like the moon. When it’s on the opposite side of the sun from Earth it looks like a little full moon. When off to to the side of the sun, we see it half-illuminated like the first quarter moon. And when Venus passes between the Earth and sun, it goes from a waning crescent to waxing.
This evening, the planet is 94 percent lit which makes very much gibbous, almost full. But in the weeks and months to come, as it swings round the sun, moving faster that the Earth, it will wane to half and finally a hair-thin crescent before it departs the evening sky. A small telescope will easily show all of Venus’ phases, and when it’s a crescent, binoculars are even up to the task.
Venus is so bright, it’s always the first “star” to appear at dusk. It will be your friend every clear evening.