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As evening twilight begins to fade, a brilliant point of light pops into view low in the southwest: Venus, the “evening star.” It’s the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon. And tonight, it stands farthest from the Sun for its current evening appearance. That means there’s a little extra time to enjoy the view before it sets, around 8:30 or 9.
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, while Earth is the third. Since it’s closer in, we never see it for more than a few hours after sunset or before sunrise.
How long we get to see it and how high it stands in the sky vary from one appearance to the next. It depends on the angle of Venus’s path. Right now, it follows a low angle across the sky in early evening. As Venus sets, it slides along the horizon instead of dropping straight down. So it’s not all that high at sunset, and it doesn’t stay in view as long as it would at other times of year.
After today, Venus will begin dropping back toward the Sun as seen from Earth. That’s just an illusion, though. The planet is actually moving closer to Earth. The relative motions of the two worlds make it look like Venus is approaching the Sun. As Venus gets closer, it also will form a bigger target. As a result, it will get a little brighter over the next few weeks.
Venus will cross between Earth and the Sun in January. After that, it will climb into the morning sky, where it will reign for most of the year.
Script by Damond Benningfield