Venus is an inferior planet that orbits the sun inside Earth’s orbit. 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. Venus is so bright and clear that it becomes the third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon. It is often called the morning or evening star.
Unlike the full moon, which rises in the east around sunset, and sets in the west around sunrise, we can never see Venus opposite the sun in our sky. In fact, we can’t even see Venus 90o from the sun in our sky.
Venus is observable only for a few weeks each time it reaches greatest separation from the Sun – moments referred to as greatest elongation. However, Venus does reach its greatest elongation east of the sun on January 12, 2017. At its greatest elongation, Venus swings out to its greatest angular distance of 47o east of the sun, placing Venus in fine view in the western evening sky.
Venus is well known for its 8-year cycles, swinging out to its greatest evening elongation some 5 times every 8 years, or once every 1.6 years. After 8 years, Venus returns to nearly the same spot relative to the backdrop stars of the zodiac.
The greatest evening elongations of Venus for the next 8 years will be
- January 12, 2017
- August 17, 2018
- March 24, 2020
- October 29, 2021
- June 4, 2023
- January 10, 2025
Enjoy Venus, as this inferior planet reaches its greatest eastern (evening) elongation on January 12, 2017.