It’s been a marvelous few months following Venus rise and fall across the evening sky, in its best show in eight years.
Venus is now gone from our western sky, but since late 2019 until late May 2020 it had dominated the sky as a brilliant evening star.
Here’s a gallery of Venus portraits I shot during its wonderful show these last few months.
The show began in November 2019 when rising Venus met declining Jupiter on November 23 for a fine conjunction of the two brightest planets in the evening twilight.
A week later I captured the line of the then three evening planets and the Moon across the southwest, defining the path of the ecliptic across the evening sky.
A week after that I took the opportunity to shoot some selfies of me with binoculars looking at Venus, as it met Saturn in a wide conjunction, with Venus then still low in the southwest. It was just beginning its climb up into the western sky.
A month later in mid-winter, Venus was still rather low but brilliant even in a hazy moonlit sky, as I posed for another selfie, this time with a small telescope. These images are always useful for illustrations in books and magazines. And blogs!
By the end of February Venus had climbed high into the west, and was appearing monthly near the waxing crescent Moon. This is another binocular selfie from February 27.
In March I visited Churchill, Manitoba just as the lockdown and travel restrictions were coming into effect. But our lone and last tour group at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre saw some fine auroras, as here on this evening with the Northern Lights appearing even in the twilight. And what’s that bright star? Venus, of course!
Upon my return home to Alberta, I was able to shoot more panoramas on the prairies of the wonderful early spring sky with Orion setting into the twilight and Venus in Taurus shining below the iconic Pleiades star cluster.
March 26 was a superb night for catching Venus now at its highest and almost at its brightest at this appearance, as the waxing Moon appeared below it.
The highlight of the spring Venus season was its close approach to the Pleiades, which it passes only every 8 years. Here I am viewing the conjunction two days before the closest approach, with Orion over my shoulder.
The night of closest approach, April 3, was cloudy, but here is a consolation closeup taken the next night with brilliant Venus departing the Seven Sisters.
Later in April Venus reached its greatest brilliancy, at magnitude -4.7, the date when the size of is disk, phase, and proximity to Earth converge to make Venus as bright as possible. On this night I shot the Moon, then 30° away from Venus and the planet with the same gear to show their relative sizes and similar crescent phase this night. The caption provides more details.
A week later, with Venus just past its point of greatest brilliancy, I shot the planet by daylight in the early evening sky, using a telescope to zoom into the planet to show its waning crescent phase. By this time the phase was obvious in binoculars.
But Venus was now dropping rapidly from sight. By May 23, it was low in the twilight and below Mercury, then at its best for 2020 for an evening appearance from my latitude. Note the thin Moon below the planets. This was a superb sight for binoculars.
By May 29, Venus was now tough to pick out of the evening sky, and a challenge to shoot even by day, as it then stood only 8° away from the Sun. What was once obvious to the naked eye now took a computerized telescope to pick out of the noon-day blue sky. A telescope showed the now razor-thin crescent as Venus approached its June 3 “inferior conjunction” — its passage between Earth and the Sun.
I shot and narrated video footage of the thin crescent Venus, my parting shots of Venus for its evening appearance in 2020.
But in June, post inferior conjunction, it will rise very quickly into our morning sky, providing a mirror-image repeat performance as a morning star for the rest of 2020.
Venus Near Inferior Conjunction from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.
I wish you all the best and a safe and healthy time in 2020. Take some solace in what the sky can show us and in the beauty of the night.
The crescent Moon rises into the western evening sky as 2016 ends, while Venus shines bright, and Orion rises into the east.
Getting clear skies is a rare treat of late, but these are images from two such nights this week. On December 30, the thin waxing Moon appeared in the colourful twilight of a winter night. Despite the clouds and the Moon’s low altitude, the dark side of the Moon is plainly visible illuminated by Earthshine.
Venus is now brilliant as an evening star in the southwest. Here is it over the old wood grain elevators at Mossleigh, Alberta, some of the few of these landmarks left standing on the prairies.
Fainter Mars shines above Venus and over the month of January, Venus will climb up to meet Mars by month’s end for a fine conjunction with the crescent Moon as well. Watch through January as Venus and Mars converge.
As the planets set into the southwest, Orion the Hunter rises into the east. Here it is over the Mossleigh elevators, illuminated by local lights.
The waxing Moon and Venus shine over contrasting landscapes, both urban and rural.
I shot the main image at top last night, May 21, from a site overlooking the urban skyline of Calgary, Alberta. The waxing Moon shines near Venus in the twilight sky.
By contrast I shot the image below the night before, from a location that couldn’t be more different – remote, rural Saskatchewan, on a heritage farmstead first settled in the 1920s by the Butala family. It is now the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area.
Here, the crescent Moon shines a little lower, below Venus, amid the subtle colours of twilight in a crystal clear prairie sky.
However, as the top image demonstrates, you don’t need to travel to remote rural locations to see and photograph beautiful sky sights. Twilight conjunctions of the Moon and bright planets lend themselves to urban nightscapes.
The next two weeks are the best in 2015 for sighting Mercury in the evening sky.
Mercury is coming into view in our evening sky, climbing as high as it can get for us in the Northern Hemisphere. This is our best chance for us to sight Mercury as an evening star in 2015.
Spring is always the best time to catch elusive Mercury. The angle of the ecliptic – the path of the planets – swings up highest above the horizon in spring, putting Mercury as high into the evening twilight as it can get. This makes it easier to sight Mercury than at other times of the year when, particularly for observers at northern latitudes, Mercury can be lost in the twilight glow and horizon haze.
When it is at its highest Mercury is surprisingly bright, appearing as a bright star easily visible to the naked eye. However, locating it at first in the twilight usually requires a scan with binoculars.
Mercury will be at its highest on May 6 when it reaches “greatest elongation.” However, it will be almost as good for a week on either side of that date.
So set aside a clear evening during the first two weeks of May to search for the inner planet. (The green line is Mercury’s path relative to the horizon with the green dots marking its position at daily intervals.)
Mercury will be shining above fainter Mars, and well below brilliant Venus, now dominating our evening spring sky. Look north of due west during the hour after sunset.
This view captures Mercury at its last good evening appearance, back in early January when it appeared close to Venus, then emerging into the evening sky. You can compare their relative brightness.
By coincidence, the emergence of Mercury into our evening sky comes just as it loses its lone visitor from Earth. Since 2011, NASA’s Messenger probe has been orbiting and mapping Mercury.
On April 29, with the probe exhausted of its maneuvering fuel, Messenger is scheduled to end its mission by crashing onto the planet, adding a new crater to Mercury’s barren and volcanic surface.
This weekend and early next week look for the Moon passing planets and star clusters in the evening sky.
The waxing Moon returns to the evening sky on Saturday night, March 21, a day and half after it eclipsed the Sun over the North Atlantic and Europe.
On Saturday, March 21 look for the thin crescent Moon very low in the west sitting just a degree (two Moon diameters) left of reddish and dim Mars.
The next night, Sunday, March 22, the Moon, now a wider crescent, shines three degrees (half a binocular field) left of brilliant Venus, for a beautiful close conjunction of the night sky’s two brightest objects. The photo ops abound!
This is one of the best Moon-Venus meet-ups of the current “evening star” apparition of Venus this winter and spring. Next month, for example, the Moon will sit six degrees away from Venus on April 21.
On Monday, March 23, the crescent Moon sits between Venus and its next destination, the bright star Aldebaran.
On Tuesday, March 24, the Moon, still a crescent, shines amid the stars of the Hyades star cluster near Aldebaran in Taurus, for a wonderful binocular scene. The more famous Pleiades star cluster is near by.
On all nights, you’ll see the night side of the Moon dimly illuminated by Earthshine, sunlight reflecting off the Earth and lighting up the dark side of the Moon.
Here’s a close-up of the March 24 scene, with the Moon in the V-shaped face of Taurus the bull that is marked by the widely scattered Hyades star cluster.
Please note: This diagram and the main chart above, are for western North America. From eastern North America, the Moon will be 2 to 4 Moon diameters lower in the sky for each of the dates indicated.