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Venus spectacular in morning sky

Photo at top: Venus in the east before sunrise – November 8, 2018 – via Brett Joseph in San Anselmo, California

In late October 2018, the planet Venus transitioned out of the evening sky and into the morning sky. Now that it’s well into November 2018, this dazzling world has reclaimed its position as the morning “star” and will be shining at its brightest best in the morning sky in late November and early December.

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Given an unobstructed horizon in the direction of sunrise, you’ll easily see Venus blazing away in the east an hour before sunrise. After all, Venus ranks as the 3rd-brightest celestial body to light up the sky, after the sun and moon.

April Singer in Santa Fe, New Mexico, also caught bright Venus on November 8, 2018.

Because Venus is so bright, you can see it in bright twilight. You might even spot Venus only half an hour (or less) before sunrise.

But if you’re up an hour or more before the sun, you can catch the bright star Arcturus to the north (left) of Venus. And if you’re up even earlier, you may also see Spica, the constellation Virgo’s brightest star, pairing up with Venus on the sky’s dome. See the chart below.

Although Spica rates as a 1st-magnitude star, Venus shines some 30 times more brilliantly than Spica. If you can’t spot Spica with the eye alone, try your luck with binoculars. Venus and Spica are so close together on the sky’s dome that the two will take the stage in the same binocular field for the upcoming week.

Wake up before dawn to see Spica, the constellation Virgo’s brightest star, coupling up with Venus in the November 2018 morning sky.

Do you have a telescope? If so, this upcoming month presents a fine time for watching Venus’ waxing crescent phase through the telescope. On November 14, 2018, Venus’ disk will be about 10 percent illuminated by sunshine. Day by day, as Venus travels farther away from Earth, Venus is nonetheless brightening in the morning sky. That’s because Venus’ phase is actually waxing (widening), and by the month’s end, Venus’ disk will be 25 percent illuminated in sunshine.

Want to know Venus’ present phase? Click here and choose Venus as the object of interest.

Venus transitions to the morning sky at new phase and into the evening sky at full phase. Venus and all the solar system planets go counterclockwise around the sun as seen from the north side of the solar system plane, as in this diagram.

Venus shines at its brightest as the morning “star” whenever Venus’ disk is about 25 percent illuminated by sunshine. This always happens some 36 days after Venus reaches new phase at inferior conjunction. Therefore, Venus will reach its greatest illuminated extent in early December 2018, or 36 days after Venus reached inferior conjunction on October 26, 2018. At greatest illuminated extent, the illuminated portion of Venus covers the most square area of sky, and it’s at and around this time that Venus shines most brightly in the morning sky.

After reaching greatest illuminated extent on December 2, 2018, Venus’ phase will widen but its disk size will shrink, so Venus’ overall brightness will slowly but surely decline. Even so, Venus will remain the second-brightest celestial object to grace the morning sky (after the moon) until Venus transitions out of the morning sky into the evening sky at full phase (or superior conjunction) on August 14, 2019.

As Venus comes closer to Earth in the evening sky, its phase shrinks but its disk size enlarges. The converse is also true. Whenever Venus gets farther away from Earth in the morning sky, its phase increases but its disk size diminishes. Image via Statis Kalyvis.

Bottom line: Get up early, and see why the planet Venus is named for a goddess of love and beauty. Then watch Venus – the sky’s brightest planet – as it brightens even more throughout November 2018.

Bruce McClure

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