The planet Venus is changing things up this week. Tonight, it crosses the line between Earth and the Sun — a moment called inferior conjunction. As it does, it moves from the evening sky to the morning sky. Within a few days, it’ll climb into view low in the east-southeast during the dawn twilight — as the brilliant “morning star.”
Venus is at its closest now — just 25 million miles away. Yet the planet doesn’t shine at its brightest, as you might expect it to. That’s because it’s a very thin crescent. The Sun is lighting up the hemisphere that’s facing away from Earth right now — just like a new Moon. That means it’s nighttime on the hemisphere of Venus that’s facing us, with only a thin sliver in the sunlight.
Over the next few months, Venus will move farther from the Earth-Sun line, so the Sun will shine on more of the planet’s Earth-facing side. In other words, Venus will be getting fuller. That’ll make it brighter. At the same time, though, Venus will be moving farther from us. That will make it fainter. When you combine those factors, Venus will shine at its brightest in mid-February.
Regardless of how bright it looks on any given date, though, Venus always ranks as the second-brightest object in the night sky — only the Moon outshines it.
Look for Venus beginning later this week, quite low in the late dawn twilight. It’ll stay in the morning sky all the way through summer — the beautiful “morning star.”
Script by Damond Benningfield