Venus, our sibling planet, is good evening company the rest of this winter and into the summer. After the Sun and Moon, Venus is the brightest object in the sky and the first “star” visible in the twilight. As February begins, the Sun sets in the southwest around 5:10. By 5:30, you should be able to spot Venus about 15 degrees above the horizon where the Sun went down. Don’t have a protractor? No worries. Just hold out your gloved fist so that it is above the horizon. Above your hand will be Venus. There is plenty of time to see it before it sets around two hours after the Sun.
Venus also makes it easy to spot some other planets. Jupiter is the second brightest “star” to emerge in the twilight. On February 1st, Jupiter is 30 degrees above and to the left of Venus. That’s about the same distance as two gloved fists side by side. Continue to watch this month as the distance between Jupiter and Venus closes. On February 21st, the two planets are just 8 degrees apart with a very thin Crescent Moon below them. By the next evening, the view will be even more magnificent. The Crescent Moon has waxed a little fuller and is just below Jupiter with Venus to its right. Get out your binoculars to enjoy the sight even more. By March 1st, Venus and Jupiter will be side by side only half a degree apart. That’s about the width of a Full Moon.
For the rest of winter and spring, Venus moves further away from Jupiter and closer to Mars. At the beginning of February, Mars is the third brightest planet, high in the southeast at twilight. Watch any clear evening as Venus and Mars slowly move closer together and Mars gradually dimming as the distance from Earth increases. On the summer solstice (June 21), there will be a beautiful gathering of the two planets with the Crescent Moon. Venus and Mars will be at their closest on July 1st. There is a nice finale on July 19 and 20 with all three rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, and Mars) together with the Crescent Moon very low in the west after sunset.
Venus is also your guide to some famous open clusters of stars. On April 11, Venus is very close to the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters. Binoculars will really enhance the view. Keep watching eleven days later on April 22 when the Crescent Moon is between Venus and the Pleiades with another open cluster, the Hyades, to the left of the Moon. On June 12 and 13, Venus is very near a third open cluster called the Beehive. The Beehive is dimmer than the Pleiades and Hyades with its stars appearing closer together, so the view will be best with binoculars after the sky darkens more.
Venus passes between Earth and Sun in August and then becomes the Morning Star this autumn.
Hope you enjoy your time with the Evening Star the first half of 2023!
Starsplitters of Wyalusing has their 2023 schedule of activity nights and public programs posted.
Kickapoo Valley Reserve’s 2023 schedule includes a Full Moon & Illuminated Ice Hike on February 4 and Driftless Dialogues: Plants in Space on February 22.
Graphics are from EarthSky.
John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador , with the International Dark-Sky Association as an Advocate, and the International Astronomical Union as a Dark Sky Ambassador. For more information about stargazing in southwest WI, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there’s something awesome happening in the skies.
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