Venus Approaching Inferior Conjunction

Based on a number of comments to this blog, many people have noticed Venus. Shining high in the evening sky over the past few months, Venus is the brightest thing in the sky after the Sun and Moon. All this is rapidly changing. Those of you who have been watching Venus night after night have probably already noticed that it is not as high in the sky as it was a month ago. Careful observers may also have noticed that Venus is not as bright as well (though still much brighter than any other planet or star).

Venus’ reign over the evening sky is about to end. Over the next few weeks, Venus will be seen lower and lower in the sky. By the end of the month, it will no longer be visible as Venus shifts to the morning sky.

So what’s going on?

Being the 2nd planet from the Sun, Venus orbits inside the orbit of Earth. Like a race car passing on the inside of a turn, Venus is passing the Earth as they orbit the Sun. On March 27, Venus catches up with the Earth and passes between the Earth and Sun, an event known as “inferior conjunction“.

venus_orbit

Relative positions of Venus and Earth on Mar 1, Mar 27, and May 1. Produced with the C2A program.

Orbit diagram showing the phases of Venus. Modified from an image by Ville Koistinen via Wikipedia Commons.

Orbit diagram showing the phases of Venus. Modified from an image by Ville Koistinen via Wikipedia Commons.

Just like the Moon, Venus displays different phases. It was these changing phases that Galileo observed ~400 years ago and convinced him that Venus was orbiting the Sun rather than the Earth. When it is located on the other side of the Sun, we see a small Venus with a near-full phase. As Venus comes closer to Earth, its phase becomes gibbous (between half and full), then half and finally it appears as a crescent. The whole time Venus increases in sizeĀ  it comes closer to Earth. Its crescent shape is because as it approaches inferior conjunction, we view more and more of its nightside. After inferior conjunction, Venus vaults into the morning sky and the progression of phases reverses (crescent to half to gibbous to full) while its distance from Earth increases. An example of Venus’ changing phases can be seen in the collection of images taken by Statis Kalyvas of Thessalonica, Greece in2004.

Phases of Venus taken by Statis Kalyvas of Thessalonica, Greece in 2004. Image from the European Southern Observatory via Wikipedia Commons.

Phases of Venus taken by Statis Kalyvas of Thessalonica, Greece in 2004. Image from the European Southern Observatory via Wikipedia Commons.

The changes are obvious in images taken with my 12″ telescope over the past ~10 days. In that time, the distance to Venus has decreased by 16% meaning Venus appears 16% larger (from 43″ to 50″ in diameter). The percentage of its disk illuminated by the Sun has also decreased from 22% to 13%.

venus_pastweek2

At inferior conjunction on the 27th, Venus will be almost an arc minute in diameter (59″) but only 1% illuminated. On that date, Venus will be a difficult observation since it will be located only 8 degrees from the Sun. Observers with an unobstructed view of the western and eastern horizons may be able to catch a view of Venus both in the evening and morning sky. At that time, a telescope would see Venus as a ring like the bottom right photo in the images above from 2004. What we are seeing, is the light from the Sun passing through the atmosphere of Venus.

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About Carl Hergenrother
I am a professional astronomer specializing in the study of comets, asteroids and meteors. This blog will focus on my professional and amateur work in this field

5 Responses to Venus Approaching Inferior Conjunction

  1. mecarz says:

    Hi

    Very nice blog.

    Thanks & Regards

  2. Cool site…(and the Regulus format looks familiar!) I’m hoping to sight Venus during inferior conjunction the morning of the 27th…I once managed this feat in Jan 1998 from North Pole, Alaska (in -20F!)

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi David,

      Yep, the format does look familiar!

      Your blog is cool as well. In fact, I really like the astro-event of the week feature. Would you mind if I linked to these from time to time, giving you full credit, of course?

      If you are able to catch Venus at inferior conjunction, drop me a note and I’ll feature your observations in a later post. I’m going to try and image Venus during the day. Hopefully I won’t smoke my finder scope again like I did trying to find Comet McNaught.

      Regards,
      - Carl

  3. John says:

    Very cool blog. I am glad I ran across it. I was on the Astronomy Picture of the day and the link for “inferior conjunction” brought me here. I am going to bookmark your site. Thanks!

  4. Jennifer says:

    According to Shared International Magizene, B. Creme has said that on May 28th, when Venus is gone, there is a planet hiding that the world will see once Venus is gone. I need the Sky watchers to keep an eye on this one and see if there really is a planet or a New Star hiding behind Venus and will be seen once Venus is down? It might be Planet X or such. The End Times are upon us, and this is a very important sign to ushering in the Antichrist. Even if you don’t believe please look for a SURPRISE STAR OR PLANET BEHIND VENUS WHEN VENUS IS GONE? Thanks Jen

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