Venus, the most brilliant planet in the night sky, will be shining at its brightest tonight (April 28).
The “evening star,” which is already the second-brightest object in the night sky (second only to the moon), is now shining at magnitude -4.7, or nearly three times brighter than it was at its faintest in late 2019. (Magnitude is a logarithmic scale of brightness used by astronomers, with lower numbers denoting brighter objects and negative numbers indicating exceptionally bright objects.)
Venus is now so bright that keen-eyed observers may be able to spot it in broad daylight, although the planet is best viewed after sunset. Look for the planet above the west-southwest horizon as the skies begin to darken this evening. It will be in the Taurus constellation near Elnath, the second-brightest star in Taurus that represents the tip of the right “horn” of the bull.
The “evening star” Venus will be at its brightest of the year on April 28, 2020. This sky chart shows where the planet will be located around 9 p.m. local time in New York City. (Image credit: SkySafari app)
For skywatchers in New York City, Venus rises by 6 a.m. and sets at 11:24 p.m. local time, which is about 3.5 hours after sunset. The “evening star” will be visible after sunset regardless of your location, but you can find out exactly what time the sun, moon and planets rise and set from any location using his handy night sky calculator at timeanddate.com.
Venus will continue to reign in the evening sky until June 3, when the planet reaches inferior solar conjunction, or the point in its orbit where it is almost directly between Earth and the sun. At this time, Venus will be difficult to see, because it rises and sets at the same time as the sun and will be overpowered by the sun’s powerful glare.
In the days following inferior conjunction, Venus will reappear in the dawn sky as a “morning star.” The planet will reach the greatest brightness of its morning apparition on July 10, when it will once again shine at a dazzling magnitude of -4.7.
On April 28, Venus will achieve its “greatest illuminated extent” for this year’s evening apparition. That terminology describes the optimum combination of the approaching planet’s apparent disk size (38 arc seconds) and its illuminated phase. That evening, Venus will shine at a spectacular magnitude –4.73. Its 27% illuminated crescent phase (inset) will be apparent in any telescope or spotting scope, good binoculars — or even to very sharp, unaided eyes. (Image credit: Starry Night)
Venus reached its “greatest illuminated extent” — when the illuminated part of the planet’s surface covers the largest chunk of our night sky — on Monday (April 27) at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT on April 28), according to the skywatching site EarthSky.org.
Perhaps surprisingly, Venus is only about 25% illuminated by sunlight at this time, and the planet appears as a thin crescent in small telescopes and high-power binoculars. And despite the fact that its Earth-facing side is almost entirely dark, Venus now appears nearly 40% larger in size than it did just one month ago.
Venus’ crescent will continue to grow thinner as the planet approaches inferior solar conjunction in early June. Once it reappears from the sun’s glare a few days later, it will remain in the dawn sky as a “morning star” for the rest of the year.
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