© NASA/Ricardo Nunes

Venus reaches highest point in morning sky

Dominic Ford, Editor
From the Inner Planets feed

Objects: Venus
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As seen from Cambridge , Venus will reach its highest point in the sky in its 2020 morning apparition. It will be shining brightly at mag -4.3.

From Cambridge, this apparition will be reasonably placed and prominent, reaching a peak altitude of 39° above the horizon at sunrise on 28 Aug 2020.

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

Date Sun
rises at
rises at
at sunrise
at sunrise
19 Jun 202005:1003:5512°east
29 Jun 202005:1303:2119°east
09 Jul 202005:1902:5525°east
19 Jul 202005:2702:3630°east
29 Jul 202005:3702:2433°east
08 Aug 202005:4702:1937°east
18 Aug 202005:5802:1938°east
28 Aug 202006:0802:2539°east
07 Sep 202006:1902:3639°east
17 Sep 202006:2902:5139°east
27 Sep 202006:4003:0937°east
07 Oct 202006:5103:2936°east
17 Oct 202007:0303:5034°south-east
27 Oct 202007:1504:1232°south-east
06 Nov 202006:2703:3429°south-east
16 Nov 202006:4003:5826°south-east
26 Nov 202006:5204:2223°south-east

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

Observing Venus

The 2020 morning apparition of Venus
03 Jun 2020 – Venus at inferior solar conjunction
08 Jul 2020 – Venus at greatest brightness
12 Aug 2020 – Venus at dichotomy
13 Aug 2020 – Venus at greatest elongation west
07 Sep 2020 – Venus reaches highest point in morning sky

Venus's orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth's, meaning 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.

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 repeat roughly once every 1.6 years, taking 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 maximum separation from the Sun of around 48°. However, some times of the year are more favourable for viewing Venus than others. From Cambridge, it reaches a maximum altitude of between 22° and 44° above the horizon at sunrise during each morning apparition, depending on the time of year. During its 2020 apparition, it will peak at 39° above the horizon at sunrise on 28 Aug 2020.

This variability over the course of the year is due to the inclination of the ecliptic to the horizon.

The inclination of the ecliptic to the horizon

The inclination of the ecliptic to the horizon changes over the course of the year, affecting how high planets close to the Sun appear in the sky.

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, the ecliptic meets the horizon at different angles at sunrise. This would translate into Venus being at different altitudes above the horizon, even if its separation from the Sun was constant.

If the ecliptic meets the horizon at a shallow angle, then Venus has to be very widely separated from the Sun to appear much above the horizon. 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 Cambridge varies between 71° (sunrise at the autumn equinox) and 24° (sunrise at the spring equinox). On September 7, the ecliptic is inclined at 64° to the eastern dawn horizon, as shown by the yellow line in the planetarium above, meaning that this apparition of Venus will be reasonably placed and prominent, reaching a peak altitude of 39° 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 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.

The sky on 07 September 2020
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

19-day old moon
Waning Gibbous


19 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 07:47 13:46 19:46
Venus 02:34 09:49 17:03
Moon 21:56 04:17 11:03
Mars 20:55 03:27 09:55
Jupiter 16:16 20:50 01:27
Saturn 16:45 21:25 02:09
All times shown in EDT.


The circumstances of this event were computed using the DE430 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

07 Sep 2020  –  Venus reaches highest point in morning sky
30 Oct 2020  –  Venus at perihelion
20 Feb 2021  –  Venus at aphelion
26 Mar 2021  –  Venus at superior solar conjunction

Image credit

© NASA/Ricardo Nunes






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