Have you seen the “Morning Star” lately? The brightest planet in the Solar System, as seen from Earth, Venus has spent much of 2020 sparkling in our post-sunset evening skies. Having recently passed between Earth and the Sun, then behind the Moon, the second rock from the Sun is now making its mark as a bright point of light in the pre-dawn eastern skies.
It’s about to reach peak brilliance—and then hit the Bull’s eye.
This Wednesday, July 8, 2020, Venus will reach its peak brilliance. At a magnitude of -4.5 it will be shining as bright as it ever gets this year. That’s despite being just 25% illuminated.
Not only that, but it will shine within the “head” of the constellation of Taurus, the bull, and close to a the star Aldebaran—the eye of the bull. However, the pairing of Venus and Aldebaran will take a bit of effort to see.
How to see Venus at its brightest
If you’re awake before sunrise on Wednesday, cast your eyes to the eastern horizon and you’ll easily see Venus.
How to see Venus and Aldebaran, the ‘eye of the bull’
Harder to see will be the planet’s visual companion, the star Aldebaran. Look slightly to the lower left of Venus and you’ll see this rusty-red star. At magnitude 0.87 it’s the thirteenth brightest star in the night sky.
Venus and Aldebaran will creep closer to each other all week, and reach their closest on the morning on Sunday, July 12, 2020.
How to see Venus and the Pleiades
Look straight above Venus and Aldebaran for a view of the Pleiades star cluster, a classic stargazing sight of winter that will be briefly visible. However, it’s nowhere near as close as during the Venus-Pleiades conjunction of April 2020 (see below for a photo).
How to see Mercury
Since you’re going to be up looking for Venus, spare a few minutes to try for Mercury. The closest planet to the Sun never gets high above the horizon as seen from Earth, but this morning about 30 minutes before sunrise you’ll have a decent chance of spotting low it in the east-northeast.
Mission to Venus
In 2023, India is planning to send its Shukrayaan-1 mission to explore the brightest planet in the sky. On the orbiter will be the Swedish Institute of Space Physics’ (IRF) satellite instrument Venusian Neutrals Analyzer (VNA) that will study how the charged particles from the Sun interact with the atmosphere and exosphere of Venus.
“Venus is the twin of our Earth, but these planets are very different,” said Yoshifumi Futaana, Associate Professor at the IRF and Principal Investigator for the VNA. “The atmosphere is dense and hot, but it is waterless.” Water did exist on Venus about four billion years ago when it formed, but it has since been lost, probably to space. “Our results will also provide essential information to help us understand exoplanets around other stars, planets which we cannot explore with instruments in place around them,” said Futaana.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.