With the start of the fall or autumnal equinox, which is set to occur at 9:54 p.m. EST on Saturday, Venus will be making a spectacularly bright appearance in the heavens above.
With equinox translated from Latin to “equal night,” the days and nights will now be equally spaced out at 12 hours each. However, after the fall equinox, the nights will swiftly grow in length until we reach the winter solstice, and if you’re keen on observing the skies, and in particular Venus, now is the time to get your binoculars and telescopes ready. However, as astronomer Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project (VTP) notes, viewing Venus can oftentimes be a frustrating experience, according to Newsweek.
Similar to the phases of the moon, Venus also has its own phases, as Masi explained. So when Venus is actually at its closest to Earth and just when you might expect to see it best, you can normally only spy just a small amount of light reflected from the sun.
“When Venus is full it is too distant from Earth to peak in brightness. But when it’s closest to us its phase is so small that we receive just a little of the light it reflects from the sun.”
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) September 21, 2018
Viewing Venus is much easier either before or after the planet’s inferior conjunction with the sun and when it appears much brighter in the sky. According to Masi, stargazers may know this special time as one in which Venus no longer shows up as what looks like an evening star and instead turns into a morning star, seen just immediately before the sun rises.
“Venus peaks in brightness when it is ending its evening visibility or starting it’s morning one. Because Venus’ orbit is entirely inside that of the Earth, we see it only for some time after sunset or before sunrise.”
This inferior conjunction will next occur when the end of October rolls around, and at the start of the fall equinox on September 22, Venus will slowly begin to peak, making this a splendid chance for stargazers to spot the brightness of Venus in the sky. In fact, even without binoculars or a telescope, at this time of year this “exceptionally bright gem is always spectacular to see.”
“Especially at twilight, the view of Venus is always rewarding, even from a city. The planet is a good friend for everyone who enjoys the night sky and its treasures.”
Besides the fact that the fall equinox ushers in a beautiful feeling of crispness in the air depending upon where you live, there is also the added bonus that Venus will now be unusually bright in the sky for all to see.