Venus: The best reason to wake up (really) early.

Vens: The best reason to wake up (really) early.

Venus, like most objects, gets dimmer as it retreats from Earth. This is happening currently, however, Venus is still very, very close to us (relatively speaking). It can get as close as (slightly over) 30 million miles and as far as nearly 2 Astronomical Units (AU’s) (1 AU is the roughly 90 million mile distance that lies between Earth and the Sun). So, Venus has hit it’s closest point to Earth (a third of an AU) and will quickly get further and further.

So, why get up early (pre-dawn) to see it if it’s retreating? Well, at it’s closest (since it’s between us and the Sun) it is only visible as a slim crescent. To the naked eye it looks like a bright, brilliant point of light. Binoculars or even an okay camera will reveal it’s true shape: almost nothing.

As it drifts further away in space, it begins to show a much larger crescent. So, even as it gets further away, it is at it’s best point in orbit for Earth-based viewers. It will shine brighter than it did a couple months back when it was closer and still an evening-sunset-sky object.

So check it out! I know I will. If you have a camera with a 15-30+ optical zoom, you will get some nice shots. Tonight (technically, tomorrow morning) Venus will be crossing the horizon at about 3:30am. At 4:30 it will be well-above the horizon right next to Sagittarius. This is towards the galactic center with loads of distance galaxy spiral arms, star clusters and nebulae. Great photo chance.

Side note: Venus is the end of a planet parade that starts and sundown. Jupiter shines high in the northeastern sky before the sun is even completely down. It shines at a -2.1 mag object (rivaling the brightest start Sirius). After midnight comes Mars shining bright in Virgo (south) at a 0.1 mag. Shortly after, Saturn rises in Scutum at a magnitude 0.69. Venus rises shortly after. You could draw a straight line from Jupiter through Mars, Saturn, to Venus.

Second side note: The Moon will be side to side with Jupiter tonight. Another photo opp, albeit for the skilled, patient photographer.

Photo Below: Venus location and information at 4:30am for southern USA latitudes.

Screenshot 2014-02-12 14.53.57

Photo below: 4:30am location and information for Saturn, which is to the left of Mars. Saturn will be slightly dimmer than Mars, but both will be bright and visible. Mars will appear bright and nearly red, so use the planet as a starting point of the constellations aren’t familiar.

Screenshot 2014-02-12 14.54.51

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