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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

If You Wanna See Venus, Better Hurry!

By Phil Plait

If youâve been outside after sunset and looked to the southwest, you canât have missed the astonishingly bright beacon glowing over the horizon. Thatâs Venus, the third brightest natural object in the sky (the International Space Station can sometimes briefly outshine it).

Venus orbits closer to the Sun than Earth does and moves faster in its orbit. Itâs âcatching upâ to Earth right now, like a car on an inside circular track passing a car outside it. From our view, we see Venus growing larger as it gets physically closer to us, as it simultaneously appears to get closer to the Sun in the sky every day. That means if you go out every night at the same timeâsay, 20 minutes after sunsetâVenus will be lower every evening. By early January itâll be too low to the horizon at sunset to spot, so go and see it while you can!

The geometry also means Venus is a very thin crescent right now, like a new Moon. As it happens, for Christmas I got whatâs called a T-adapter and ring, which allow me to hook up my camera to my telescope. As soon as the Sun set on Christmas day, I was outside freezing my asteroid off to get pictures, like the one above. I also took a short video and gave a running commentary as it recorded (make it full screen to see it best):

It was fun to watch Venus slowly move across the field as the moving air above the Rocky Mountains caused the crescent to bubble and boil. I was amazed to see the planet as an obvious crescent in my small (10x50) binoculars; if you have a pair, I strongly urge you to take a look! But seriously, hurry: Venus is screaming down in the west right now and will only be easily visible for a few more days. After that, youâll have to wait until the end of January for it to be easily visible in the east before sunrise.

And since itâs a FAQ whenever I tweet about using my observing equipment: I have a Celestron 8â SGC (XLT) telescope, a Canon T4i camera, and the adapter (and ring) to mount it is available at Celestron or through various other companies. They make adapters for every major camera brand, so itâs not too hard to find what you need.

I am very much looking forward to playing with this setup more. Jupiter is up not very long after sunset, for example, and makes a fantastic target. If and when I get good shots, trust me, Iâll post âem here!

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