Morning Venus

StarDate: June 4, 2009

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It might not look like it, but the planet Venus is standing farthest from the Sun for its current "morning-star" appearance. Although it's quite bright, it's low in the east at first light, so any trees or buildings along the horizon will block it from view.

Venus and the other planets all lie near the ecliptic -- the Sun's path across the sky. Right now, the ecliptic tilts low across the south during the day. So as Venus rises, it follows a low angle -- it scoots along the horizon instead of popping straight up into the sky. That means that even though there's a wide angle between Venus and the Sun, the planet doesn't climb very high in the sky before daybreak.

But the light of day doesn't fully hide Venus from view. It's so bright that it's still visible even after sunrise. The trick is to know when and where to look for it. Once you find it, it stands out.

Today, for example, Venus is due south around 10 or 10:30. It's roughly two-thirds of the way up to the zenith -- the point directly overhead. And around 3:30 or 4, it's due west, a little more than the width of a hand at arm's length above the horizon. The details vary depending on your location, but that gives you a general bearing on the planet.

One thing you can't see through the daylight is Mars. But it's in good view at first light, a little to the left of Venus. It's not as bright as Venus, but its closeness to the morning star will help you find it.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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