© NASA/Ricardo Nunes

Venus at greatest elongation west

Dominic Ford, Editor
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The sky at

Venus will be well placed for observation in the dawn sky, shining brightly at mag -4.3.

From Fairfield, it will rise at 02:27 (EST) – 3 hours and 33 minutes before the Sun – and reach an altitude of 34° above the eastern horizon before fading from view as dawn breaks at around 05:40.

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Venus's orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth's, meaning that it always appears close to the Sun and is very difficult to observe most of the time.

It is observable only for a few weeks each time it reaches greatest separation from the Sun – moments referred to as greatest elongation.

On these occasions, however, 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 or 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.

On this occasion, it lies 45° to the Sun's west.

Venus in coming weeks

The key moments in this apparition of Venus are as follows:

03 Jun 2020 13:38 EDT – Venus at inferior solar conjunction
08 Jul 2020 07:52 EDT – Venus at greatest brightness
12 Aug 2020 16:48 EDT – Venus at dichotomy
13 Aug 2020 09:03 EDT – Venus at greatest elongation west

After greatest elongation, the distance between Venus and the Sun will decrease each night as it sinks back into the Sun's glare. The table below lists how long before sunrise Venus will rise each night; all times are given in Fairfield local time.

Date Sun
sets at
rises at
Altitude of Venus
at sunrise
Direction of Venus
at sunrise
06 Aug 202005:5202:2936°north-west
13 Aug 202005:5902:2737°north-west
20 Aug 202006:0602:2938°north-west
27 Aug 202006:1302:3339°north-west
03 Sep 202006:2002:4039°north-west
10 Sep 202006:2702:4939°north-west
17 Sep 202006:3302:5938°north-west
24 Sep 202006:4103:1137°north-west
01 Oct 202006:4803:2436°north-west
08 Oct 202006:5503:3835°north-west
15 Oct 202007:0303:5234°north-west

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

Venus's position

The position of Venus when it reaches greatest elongation will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Magnitude Angular Size
Venus 06h22m20s +20°03' Gemini -4.3 23.4"
Sun 09h33m +14°30' Leo -26.7 31'34"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

Seasonal effects

At each apparition, Venus reaches a similar separation from the Sun – 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.

Nonetheless, some times of the year are more favourable for viewing Venus than others.

It appears most favourably in the evening sky around the time of the local spring equinox, and most favourably in the morning sky around the local autumn equinox.

These dates are reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres, such that a good apparition in one hemisphere will not be easily observable from the other.

This is comes about because Venus always lies close to the line of the ecliptic, shown in yellow in the planetarium above. This is the line through the zodiacal constellations that the Sun follows through the year, and marks the flat plane in space in which all of the planets circle the Sun.

When Venus rises a few hours ahead of the Sun, the altitude it reaches Venus above the horizon before sunrise depends on two factors.

One is its angular separation from the Sun. But equally important is how steeply the line of the ecliptic is inclined to the horizon.

If Venus is widely separated from the Sun along the ecliptic, this may not translate into a high altitude if the ecliptic meets the horizon at a very shallow angle, running almost parallel to it.

Conversely, if the ecliptic is almost perpendicular to the horizon, a much smaller separation from the Sun may place Venus higher in the sky.

The inclination of the ecliptic plane to the horizon at Fairfield varies between 72° (sunrise at the autumn equinox) and 25° (sunrise at the spring equinox). On August 13, the ecliptic is inclined at 65° to the eastern dawn horizon, as shown by the yellow line in the planetarium view above, meaning that on this occasion Venus is very favourably placed for viewing from Fairfield.

The sky on 13 August 2020
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

24-day old moon
Waning Crescent


24 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 05:35 12:42 19:48
Venus 02:27 09:45 17:03
Moon 00:41 08:02 15:22
Mars 22:30 04:54 11:15
Jupiter 18:03 22:41 03:24
Saturn 18:31 23:15 04:04
All times shown in EDT.


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

13 Aug 2020, 09:03 EDT  –  Venus at greatest elongation west
29 Oct 2021, 10:44 EDT  –  Venus at greatest elongation east
20 Mar 2022, 17:22 EDT  –  Venus at greatest elongation west
04 Jun 2023, 11:58 EDT  –  Venus at greatest elongation east

Image credit

© NASA/Ricardo Nunes




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