See Venus during the day!

By Phil Plait | May 16, 2010 10:28 am

[Update (17:00 MT): I did it! Just saw Venus, with the Sun still more than 34° above the horizon. It was very faint and difficult, but once I spotted it I had it nailed. Persistence pays off, me droogs.]

On Twitter last night I mentioned that the thin crescent Moon was near Venus at sunset, and I got a lot of replies from people who ran outside to see. That was pretty nice!

But that was just after the Sun had set for me here in Boulder, when the sky was getting darker and Venus was easy to spot. But Venus can be seen in broad daylight, if you know where to look! Today is a good day to try, because the Moon is still near the planet, and the Moon is slightly easier to find.

findvenus

My advice is to try sometime after local noon. Go outside and find the Sun. Duh, that should be easy enough. At about 1:00 local time for you it should be in high in the south. This will put Venus and the Moon about 30° to the left (if you are in the northern hemisphere; reverse all this for the southern). When I make a fist with my arm fully outstretched, it spans about 10°. I have a big hand, so YMMV. But something like three fist-spans away from the Sun, parallel with the horizon, you should be able to see a very thin crescent Moon. It won’t be easy to spot; binoculars might help. Be careful not to look at the Sun though! [Edited to add: don’t let kids or people inexperienced with binoculars try this; if they look at the Sun through the binocs Bad Things can happen. Looking at the sky won’t hurt, but looking right at the Sun will potentially damage your eye. In fact, your best bet is to put the Sun behind a roof or a building of some sort, which not only prevents you from hurting yourself, but also makes it easier to spot the Moon.]

Once you spot the Moon, Venus will be easier. It’s just about 7-8 degrees to the right of and slightly above the Moon, between the Moon and the Sun, but much closer to the Moon (most standard binoculars have a 6° field of view, so Venus will be a little more than one FOV away from the Moon). The diagram above shows the configuration as I’ll see it here in Boulder, Colorado at about 1:30 p.m. local time. Hopefully that’ll help you find it.

Finding Venus in the daytime isn’t all that easy, and can be frustrating. If you can’t find it, don’t sweat it. But if you do, I think you’ll be amazed. I still remember the first time I did, when I was about 15. It’s weird to see something that looks like a star when the Sun is blazing away, so it’s worth the effort.

By tomorrow (Monday) the Moon will have moved farther to the east (left), so it’ll be farther from Venus, making this harder to do. So try for it today!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff
MORE ABOUT: binoculars, Moon, Sun, Venus

Comments (49)

Links to this Post

  1. Venus at Midday! at Asymptotia | May 16, 2010
  1. Hank Fox

    “There’s an ap for that.” I’m sure it’s probably available on the iPhone and others, but on the Droid, I have Google Sky Maps. You can just hold the phone up and it serves as a sort of window onto the sky with an overlay that allows you to see the relative positions of planets, stars, constellations, etc. in realtime.

  2. Kevin F.

    Cirrus clouds over Pittsburgh today, putting my hand up over the sun the sky was still too bright to look at.

  3. Pete

    Jeez, I love this blog and I’m not usually Safety Boy, but extorting the masses to manually point a pair of binoculars at mid-day within 30 degrees of the sun is a really bad idea.

  4. David Draper
  5. Noam Zur

    A bit too late today, but I will try tomorrow (it’s way past noon already in my neck of the world)

  6. I just tried it here (just outside of Atlanta) but there’s a little cloud cover and there was a kinda rainbow corona around the sun so I couldn’t really see the moon or Venus. Oh, well. We’ll try again in an hour or so. The rainbow thing was pretty cool, though.

  7. Levi in NY

    Didn’t succeed in finding Venus (naked-eye only), but I’ve seen Venus before during the day just by tracking its position in the sky after sunrise. It’s pretty impressive. Today, I’m just proud of myself for finally spotting that tiny sliver of a moon with my sensitive eyes. I had to don a pair of sunglasses and obstruct the Sun with the corner of the roof of my house.

  8. BillyBob

    Wow, really brilliant idea to recommend that your readers look in the direction of the midday Sun with binoculars. Maybe next time you can suggest they try homeopathy to help restore eyesight to their burned-out retinas.

  9. Pete

    I meant “exhorting,” of course, not “extorting.” It was a typo. Really.

  10. Folks, I put a statement in there to be careful not to look at the Sun. And looking at the sky with binoculars might make your eyes water, but won’t hurt you. Think of it this way: you put your hand over the Sun to look near it with your unaided eye, right? So looking near the Sun won’t hurt you.

    Binocs do gather light and focus it into your eye, but since the sky is an extended source, looking at it with binocs won’t make it any brighter. The danger is looking right at the Sun or very close to it, which is why I said to be careful.

  11. Bob

    The safety goggles do nothing…

    Jeez people – if you can’t handle using binocs during the day, then perhaps you can past them up?

  12. Pete

    It’s not a strong enough warning. Usually, when you point the binocs up (and especially close to the zenith, and in a blue sky with no reference points, and if you’re kinda new), you have to hunt around some before you find what you’re looking for. So chances are you’ll get an eyeful of concentrated sunshine. Not to mention that that thing behind your eyeball is your brain.

  13. Pete (13): Sure, so that’s why I told people to be careful. I updated the post to make it as bit stronger. However, I don’t think any binoculars in the world can actually damage your brain by looking at the Sun. Not sure what you’re saying there.

    I just went out and looked, and there’s too much cottonwood seed in the air to see anything! That made me laugh.

  14. SisterShirk

    Hey, just thought I’d mention this. I’m a bit of an amature astonomer myself and APOD (astronomy picture of the day) said that if you’re in the right part of Asia or Africa today you’ll be witnessing the hour long eclipse of venus’ cresent by our cresent moon. Though Venus is brighter and easier to spot, it will dissapear for just a bit while the moon passes in front of it. Thought you’d like to know!

  15. The sky is to hazy here near Vancouver, but I have seen Venus during the day at other times. I was actually looking for it the other day when it was a clear blue sky, but no luck.

  16. SisterShirk (15): Unfortunately, that occultation was already long over before I posted this blog entry. I hope someone got to see it though! Those are very cool to watch.

  17. Spotting planets in daylight is easier if you use a building (or several buildings) to block the sun and help you focus your eyes on the part of the sky where the planets are. Some thirty years ago, when I was in seventh or eighth grade, I saw Venus and Jupiter at midday using my school building to block the sun and a church steeple as a finder for the planets. (My eyes were somewhat different back then.) To do this, you need to know the approximate distance between the planets and the sun in the sky.

  18. Kees

    So, given how the geometry of the situation won’t change much over the course of 12 hours or so, this will still be possible tomorrow at noon here in western Europe?

  19. For those concerned about binoculars blowing out your eyes:

    I was on an early-morning solo scramble up a mountain, and was really enjoying the way the shadows were playing across the landscape, when I realized something: the sun was rising *right above* the peak of my mountain!

    I huffed up to a spot where I could see the peak, slapped on a telephoto lens and started firing. I had two problems, though. My DSLR is a little older, and doesn’t do “live preview” via the back LCD. I didn’t have a tripod, either, since lugging it up a scramble is a little much. So I had to look through the viewfinder to aim the camera!

    I did what I could to minimize the damage, like keeping my face as far back from the eyepiece as possible and constantly shifting my eye around, but I still spent a few minutes with an amplified sun in one eye.

    Net result? My eye stung for a few hours, and there was a nasty “flare” in that eye for most of the hike. It was gone the next day, and I haven’t noticed any visions problems since. As for the results, check my name.

    So should you stare at the sun through binoculars for long periods? Heck no! But catching a quick glimpse of the sun through them won’t blind you, either.

  20. John Baxter

    “Hi, thin clouds.” “Hello, fat John” (Stolen from Geoff Edwards’ KFI morning show “a few” years ago.

    But then, that’s to be expected in the Puget Sound (Salish Sea…much better name) area.

  21. davem

    Astronomy Picture of the day has a really good picture of the crescent moon, with Venus right next to it, taken during the daytime. Just look at that, and avoid burning your retinas…

  22. Harold (18): Heh. I just went out to try again, and the Sun naturally was behind the roof of my house. I added a bit in the post about doing that, and saw your comment. :)

    FWIW, the Moon was easy to see, and Venus pops right out in my binocs, but I can’t quite see it with my unaided eye. The cottonwood and birds everywhere are making it harder, too!

  23. Kevin

    Moon Sliver, Venus, Table Mountain – don’t need protection ’cause there was an amazing sunset an hour earlier. Life is beautiful at the pointy end of Africa.

  24. Mark Salter

    That is so totally pickin’ awesomely cool.

  25. doug l

    Back in the days before the internet, while hiking high in a mountian range in Nevada on a perfectly cloudless afternoon, I took a nice rest, staring up at the intense blue of the sky and I noticed what I came to think must have been Venus. At first I though, being it was in the Nevada Desert that it was some kind of weather balloon or maybe some kind of experimental craft, but the condition, its location relative to the sun, and (following some old fashioned research in books) I think that was in all likelihood Venus.
    I’d always thought that the particularly fine viewing conditions were largely the reason but I think I’ll start looking again.
    I’ve heard that on occasion other stars are visible too. Any suggestions?

  26. Just saw it through binoculars quite easily about 2.5 hours before sunset but couldn’t find it without visual aid even when I knew exactly where to look! Too many eye floaters distracting me!

  27. JenniferBurdoo

    Dang it, Phil, why do you always post these “cool things to see” when South Florida is clouded over?

    According to Samurai!, by Saburo Sakai, Japanese Navy pilots before WWII trained their vision by looking for Venus and other bright celestial objects in the daytime sky, on the grounds that spotting a plane at several miles distance was about as difficult. They even practiced by looking away and then snapping their eyes back to the correct spot!

  28. I am in Florida and its cloudy (and rainy) today. I have done this many times and it gets easier with practice. You really have to look straight at Venus and get it on the fovea, the most sensitive part of the retina. You also need your eyes to focus at infinity. It’s easy when the Moon is a nearby reference point to get your eyes to focus. Like anything else, you CAN make your eyes focus at infinity with practice.

    I also managed to get pics of Venus during the day, I believe in the summer of 2008. I would have to dig to find them!

    I posted my pics of Venus and the Moon from Florida last night on my blog. http://bit.ly/b5bVvi

  29. mln84

    Clouds in the right (wrong!) area, but I did see some rainbow clouds that you talked about a couple of posts down, so it was still fun to go out and look. (Minneapolis area, 6:15CDT)

  30. Brian

    In SoCal at noon easily spotted moon but no venus to be found. Used binocs and low powered telescope but found nothing. Without a proper filter theres no way you could’ve seen it today. Thanks for wasting an hour.

  31. Jack Mitcham

    I don’t follow your twitter, but last night, I saw the thin crescent moon and Venus just as the sun had set. It was so striking that I called up my mother and made her go outside and take a look. She had never had Venus pointed out to her before.

  32. You can also see Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Sirius during the day as well. Same rules apply – you’ll need binoculars nd have to know where to look – and where not to look (the sun) – and you can spot them. I got some of my best photos of Mars at 8:30 am, a few hours after sunrise a few years ago. The blue sky actually cut down the glare I was getting at night from the planet. Saturn shows up too, through a telescope. Venus is the easiest to spot though.

    He Who Really Needs To Dust Off His Scope Again Sometime.

  33. Childermass

    Another method that works when Venus is a bright “morning star” is spotting it when it very easy to near sunrise. Then keep tabs on it every few minutes. Venus is nearly impossible to find in the day if you don’t know where to look, but once you know its location it is a lot easier. I once had to wait outside for something or another and was able to keep Venus in sight well after solid daylight would have made it close to impossible to spot without knowing where to look.

  34. I tried, but it is so hazy that I could not find Luna, let alone Venus. I experimented with looking just at the sun for an instant — I know that it is dangerous, but I decided to risk it. Sol did not present a discernible disk, but is just a bright spot in the haze. Oh well, I have seen Venus in the day already.

  35. Procyan

    One way to locate Venus if you are having difficulty making naked eye contact is to get behind a window, and locate with binoculars. Now extend your poining finger to the field of view until you contact the window pane. Of course the image of your finger will be extremely blurry, but it will mark the location of Venus so you can see her when you take the binos away.

    thanks Phil, great experience. I just added this to my bucket list so i could put a tick beside it!

  36. George Martin

    Childermass @33 says:
    Another method that works when Venus is a bright “morning star” is spotting it when it very easy to near sunrise. Then keep tabs on it every few minutes.

    I’ve done that a few times. And as someone else has mentioned, being in the shadow of a building helps. Also what helps is when Venus is near maximum elongation.

    George

  37. Alan in Upstate NY

    Being in the shadow of a building helps a lot, and it also makes it very safe. When Venus is in the evening sky and east of the Sun, I put a lawn chair in the shaded east side of a building when Venus is due south and highest. Right now that would be at 3 pm.

    Clear skies, Alan

  38. Mary

    Although I did not get to see Venus during the day today as I had planned, I did get to watch a marvelous scene. The sunset left a lovely pink hue over the hills across the lake. As the sky began to darken, the Moon with Earthshine and the brilliant Venus became brighter. The scene of them setting while reflecting across the rippling water was not only a glorious site but a very romantic and way to end our 40th Wedding Anniversary day.
    I hav e seen Venus in the daytime once before. It was after a night of observing with a bunch of others in our group. Once someone spotted it and we got the location, it was easy enough to stick with it until it was totally washhed out by the later morning sunshine.

  39. Levi in NY

    As a linguist, it never ceases to amuse me how much geocentrism pervades our language.

    “In fact, your best bet is to ***put the Sun behind a roof or a building of some sort***, which not only prevents you from hurting yourself, but also makes it easier to spot the Moon.”

  40. Sili

    I caught Venus next to the Moon completely by accident last night when I was going to bed. Not in daylight, but I think this may be the first time I’ve seen Venus and known for sure what I saw.

  41. Kees

    @ 40. For clarity it beats: “Put yourself in a line with the apparent position of the sun (or technically where the sun was 8 minutes ago, due to light speed lag) and a non-transparent building. This has to be done in such a way that the building is the middle point of the line so that it is between you and the sun. (applies to EVA’ing astronauts).”

  42. Chris A.

    At our public observatory, we routinely show visitors Venus in the daytime by pointing our big (0.6m) telescope at it, then instructing them how to sight along the edges of the (square) yoke, which are conveniently parallel to the optic axis. Our success rate is probably around 60%-70% of those who try. I’m trying to do my part to make those who have seen Venus in the daytime a less tiny percentage of the population!

  43. Mary

    On Astronomy Day this year, a couple of members of our group were showing Venus to people through their telescopes during the day. That is not the same as seeing it without optical aids, but the public was quite impressed that it is actually possible to see a planet during the daytime.

  44. magetoo

    Kees: That’s a beautifully cromulent sentence. I especially like your attention to detail, pointing out that the building must not be transparent.

  45. Just me

    This evening, the sun had just set, but the sky was still blue; Venus and the crescent moon were glowing brightly–oh, wait. They don’t glow. My bad. I was never much of a scientist. I’m more of a science cheerleader… Heh.

  46. It’s been too hazy (OK, smoggy) lately to do this where I live, but a few years ago I managed to spot Venus unaided around lunchtime several days in a row. It’s one of those things that just seems so obviously impossible according to common sense that being able to do it is just inherently cool.

  47. Yee

    OK, I took a pic today 10.12.2010, approximately 1045am PST of the sun and there is a bright spot right next to it on the west side at 90 degrees that looks like it could be either Venus or Mercury. Is this possible today or maybe my camera is doing something weird? I wish I could attach the pic.

  48. mark iliff

    Can anyone help me, I got up this morning looked out my window up into the clear morning sky about 8am and can see a small round shining planet like object. I got my compass to check, and it is south-slightly southeast and then is moving slowly towards south westerly direction. It is now 10 oclock am, and can still see it. It looks fairly high up(sorry dont know about degrees yet). Anyway I am absolutely amazed by what I can see, can anybody tell me what it could be, I have checked on internet and think it could be Venus. I live in Blackpool UK.

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