© NASA/Ricardo Nunes

Venus reaches highest point in morning sky

Dominic Ford, Editor
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As seen from Ashburn , Venus will reach its highest point in the sky in its 2018–2019 morning apparition. It will be shining brightly at mag -4.4.

From Ashburn, this apparition will not be one of the most prominent but prominent, reaching a peak altitude of 34° above the horizon at sunrise on 14 Dec 2018.

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The table below lists how high Venus will appear at sunrise over the course of its the apparition. All times are given in Ashburn local time.

Date Sun
sets at
Venus
rises at
Altitude
at sunrise
Direction
at sunrise
04 Nov 201806:4205:3711°west
14 Nov 201806:5304:3922°west
24 Nov 201807:0404:0330°west
04 Dec 201807:1403:4333°west
14 Dec 201807:2203:3634°west
24 Dec 201807:2803:3833°west
03 Jan 201907:3003:4531°west
13 Jan 201907:2903:5629°west
23 Jan 201907:2404:0826°west
02 Feb 201907:1704:2124°west
12 Feb 201907:0604:3221°west
22 Feb 201906:5304:4019°west
04 Mar 201906:3904:4417°west

A graph of the angular separation of Venus from the Sun around the time of greatest elongation is available here.

Observing Venus

The 2018–2019 morning apparition of Venus
26 Oct 2018 – Venus at inferior solar conjunction
29 Nov 2018 – Venus at greatest brightness
14 Dec 2018 – Venus reaches highest point in morning sky
05 Jan 2019 – Venus at dichotomy
06 Jan 2019 – Venus at greatest elongation west

Venus's orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth's, meaning that it always appears close to the Sun and is lost in the Sun's glare much of the time.

It is observable for a few months each time it reaches greatest separation from the Sun – moments referred to as greatest elongation. These apparitions repeat roughly once every 1.6 years.

On these occasions, Venus is so bright and conspicuous that it becomes the third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon. It is often called the morning star or the evening star.

These apparitions take place alternately in the morning and evening skies, depending whether Venus lies to the east of the Sun or to the west.

When it lies to the east, it rises and sets a short time after the Sun and is visible in early evening twilight. When it lies to the west of the Sun, it rises and sets a short time before the Sun and is visible shortly before sunrise.

At each apparition, Venus reaches a separation from the Sun of around 48°. This distance is set by the geometry of how big Venus's orbit is, and how far away it is from the Earth.

However, some times of the year are more favourable for viewing Venus than others. From Ashburn, it reaches a maximum altitude of between 23° and 45° at sunrise during each morning apparition, depending on the time of year. During its 2018–2019 apparition, it will peak at 34° above the horizon at sunrise on 14 Dec 2018.

The inclination of the ecliptic to the horizon

At all times, Venus lies close to a line across the sky called the ecliptic, which is shown in yellow in the planetarium above. This line traces the path that the Sun takes through the zodiacal constellations every year, and shows the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. Since all the planets circle the Sun in almost exactly the same plane, it also closely follows the planes of the orbits of the other planets, too.

When Venus is widely separated from the Sun, it is separated from it along the line of the ecliptic. But, at different times of year, this translates into Venus being at different altitudes above the horizon at sunrise. This is because at different times of year, the ecliptic meets the horizon at different angles at sunrise.

If the ecliptic meets the horizon at a shallow angle, then even if Venus is widely separated from the Sun, it may not appear very high above the horizon at sunrise. Conversely, if the ecliptic is almost perpendicular to the horizon, Venus may appear much higher in the sky, even if it is actually much closer to the Sun.

The seasonal dependence of this is that at sunset, the ecliptic makes its steepest angle to the horizon at the spring equinox – in March in the northern hemisphere, and in September in the southern hemisphere. Conversely, it meets the horizon at its shallowest angle at the autumn equinox. Because the seasons are opposite in the northern and southern hemispheres, a good apparition of Venus in one hemisphere will usually be badly placed in the other.

At sunrise, these dates are also inverted, so that for morning apparitions of Venus, the ecliptic makes its steepest angle to the horizon at the autumn equinox, and its shallowest angle to the horizon at the spring equinox.

The optimum time for an apparition of Venus

The maximum altitude of Venus during all its morning apparitions between 2000 and 2050, as a function of the day of the year on which greatest western elongation occurs. Different colours show the altitudes observed from different latitudes. Click to expand.

For this reason, the day when Venus reaches its widest separation from the Sun (greatest elongation) is not necessarily the same day when it appears highest in the sky at sunrise. Venus typically appears highest in the sky a few days or weeks closer to the autumn equinox than the moment of greatest elongation.

The inclination of the ecliptic plane to the horizon at Ashburn varies between 74° (sunrise at the autumn equinox) and 27° (sunrise at the spring equinox). On December 14, the ecliptic is inclined at 40° to the eastern dawn horizon, as shown by the yellow line in the planetarium above, meaning that this apparition of Venus will not be one of the most prominent but prominent, reaching a peak altitude of 34° above the horizon at sunrise.

Venus's position

The position of Venus when it reaches its highest point will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Magnitude Angular Size
Venus 15h48m10s -16°27' Libra -4.4 24.7"
Sun 19h06m -22°33' Sagittarius -26.7 32'31"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 14 December 2018
Sunrise
07:20
Sunset
16:47
Twilight ends
18:23
Twilight begins
05:44

7-day old moon
Waxing Crescent

40%

7 days old

Planets
Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 05:33 10:35 15:36
Venus 03:36 09:02 14:27
Moon 12:20 17:52 23:25
Mars 12:08 17:53 23:39
Jupiter 06:10 11:01 15:52
Saturn 08:31 13:15 18:00
All times shown in EST.

Source

The circumstances of this event were computed using the DE405 planetary ephemeris published by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

This event was automatically generated by searching the ephemeris for planetary alignments which are of interest to amateur astronomers, and the text above was generated based on an estimate of your location.

Related news

14 Dec 2018  –  Venus reaches highest point in morning sky
06 Jan 2019  –  Venus at greatest elongation west
24 Mar 2020  –  Venus at greatest elongation east
30 Mar 2020  –  Venus reaches highest point in evening sky

Image credit

© NASA/Ricardo Nunes

Ashburn

Latitude:
Longitude:
Timezone:

39.04°N
77.49°W
EST

Color scheme