Night owls: you'll be able to see Venus again this summer without having to get up early

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Moon and Venus both in their crescent phase.

Right now you may have noticed that Venus is sinking down bit by bit every day in the evening sky as it once again draws closer to the Sun, but tells us that this time due to the slight difference in the orbital plane of our two planets it'll actually be able to be seen (ever so slightly) both in the evening of the 25th and the next morning if you live in the northern hemisphere:

Seen from mid-northern latitudes at this time of year, the ecliptic – the imaginary line across the sky representing the path of the sun – is steeply inclined to the horizon in the early evening. Therefore, Venus appears to descend the western sky rapidly during these last couple of weeks of March.

On March 25 at 14 hours Universal Time the sun and Venus are in conjunction in right ascension with the planet 9.1-degrees due north of the center of the sun's disk. On this date viewers in North America will see Venus about equally well in both the evening and morning sky, almost 9-degrees to the upper right of the setting sun (your clenched fist measures roughly 10-degrees at arm's length) and about as far to the left of the rising sun. From latitude 40-degrees north (the latitude of Philadelphia, Denver or Madrid), Venus will be 5-degrees above the horizon at both sunrise and sunset!

Up to and including the evening of March 25, Venus is easier to see in the evening sky, and thereafter easier in the morning.

Using Stellarium for that date you can see what this is going to look like (this is using the sea as a background). First Venus at sunset March 25:

and then the next morning, just before the Sun comes up:

As for the original subject of the post, the reason why night owls (like myself) should be happy is because two things will happen beginning in April:

1) The days will continue to get longer, meaning the Sun will be rising earlier and earlier until the Solstice, and
2) Venus will begin to rise higher and higher in the morning sky.

Eventually by about June or so Venus will have risen so high in the morning sky that it'll start to be visible in the east some time after 2 am, which is when a lot of us night owls are still awake, so if you're like me you won't need to get up bright and early just to see Venus - just wait until after 2 am and then make a quick trip outside to see it in the east.

Everybody wins!

Venus and Jupiter (and Mars) just after 3 am on July 1st this year, from about 37 degrees north.


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