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Venus at Elongation

June 2, 2017

The lovely planet Venus has been sneaking farther from the Sun in the early morning sky over the last few months. And tomorrow, it’s at its farthest. At this time of year, though, its path across the sky tilts low above the horizon, so the planet doesn’t climb very high. Yet Venus is still easy to pick out because it’s the brilliant “morning star” — the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon.

Venus orbits closer to the Sun than Earth does, so it never moves far from the Sun as seen from Earth. As a result, it’s visible for only a short time before sunrise or after sunset. Right now, despite its apparent distance from the Sun, it rises only a couple of hours before the Sun does.

Like the solar system’s other major planets, Venus stays close to the ecliptic, which is the Sun’s path across the sky. Over the course of a year, the angle of the ecliptic at any given time of day changes. At this time of year, the ecliptic is quite low in the early morning sky. So as Venus rises, it doesn’t climb very high. Instead, it hugs the horizon, scooting more to the right than up. So the planet is still quite low in the sky at first light.

The angle varies a bit depending on your location. So skywatchers in the southern United States will see Venus climb a bit higher than those at more northerly latitudes.

No matter where you are, though, beautiful Venus is well worth a look — the dazzling morning star shining in the east at dawn.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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