See Venus in broad daylight today!

By Phil Plait | February 25, 2012 10:07 am

Venus is the third brightest natural object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon — and today is one of your best chances all year to see Venus in broad daylight.

I took this pic of the two together last November.

Venus is so bright it can be seen even during the day when the Sun is up. I’ve seen it many times before even at noon — but it ain’t easy. The problem is that the sky is big and bright, and Venus is small, just a dot, and can be very difficult to find initially. And even after you find it in the sky it’s really easy to lose it among all that blue. But today we have a cheat — the Moon!

As the Moon orbits the Earth, it changes its position in the sky. Today, pretty much all day, it’s very close to the position of Venus. Of course, they aren’t physically close together — the Moon is about 380,000 km away, while Venus is 141 million km distant — but they happen to line up as seen from Earth. And while the Moon is a thin crescent, it’s not too hard to find.

[These instructions are for folks in the northern hemisphere. If you live below the Equator, flip left for right and up for down.]

If you want to try, go outside and face the Sun (don’t look right at it: despite "common wisdom" it’s pretty hard to do serious damage to your eyes by looking at the Sun especially if you just glance at it, but it hardly is good for you, and the glare will make it harder to see anything at all). [UPDATED TO ADD: by this last bit, I mean that you can do permanent minor damage by staring at the Sun — commonly black spots where the retina gets damaged — or major temporary damage — like not being able to see for a while, but which can subside — but it’s hard to go permanently and totally blind. But as I pointed out, it’s not a good idea under any circumstances.] Hold your left arm straight out from your body — that represents the angle 90° from the Sun in the sky. The Moon is just about halfway between the Sun and where your left arm is pointing – about 40° from the Sun. This method is rough and you’ll have to scan around to find the crescent Moon, but be patient and persistent. It’ll pay off. It might help to have some trees or buildings a distance away from you as landmarks to help you keep the Moon spotted once you find it.

Once you find it, look just below it, about the width of one finger held out at arm’s length. Venus should be there. Again, be patient; this isn’t easy. Also, it may help if you use binoculars, but be very careful not to point them near the Sun! That’s a recipe for boiled retinae.

If you find it, yay! You might even try to go for Jupiter, which is much more challenging. Jupiter is about 15° farther east from the Moon/Venus pair (that is, farther away from the Sun). Mentally connect a line between the Sun and the Moon, then continue it about half that distance more to the left. You’ll almost certainly need binoculars, since Jupiter is less than a quarter as bright as Venus, making it that much harder to spot.

And don’t fret if you can’t find them! There’s an even easier trick: wait a few hours. Once the Sun gets close to setting and the sky is darker, Venus is a lot easier to find. Just face west after sunset, and boom! You won’t miss it. The Moon will be very close, and the two will make an incredible pair in the sky, with Jupiter lurking above them. In fact, if you go out right after sunset, you might spot elusive Mercury just above the horizon as well! The picture here shows the scene from last night; I took it myself from my back yard [click to embiggen]. You can see the thin crescent Moon (the dark side lit by reflected Earth light), Venus above it, and Jupiter above that. Tonight, the Moon will slide just past Venus on the right. It’ll be a fantastic photo opportunity, so if you have a simple point-and-shoot camera and a tripod, give it a shot! That’s all I used to get that picture.

And if it’s cloudy where you are, or you just simply miss this chance, you’ll get another one in a month: on March 26th the Moon will once again be pretty close to Venus. Due to the dance of the planets, Jupiter will be between Venus and the Sun by then too, and quite a bit closer to Venus. That might make it easier to see during the day as well.


Related posts:

Venus and the Moon, looking pretty
The Moon and Venus, a gorgeous pair
See Venus during the day!
The Moon and Venus, sittin’ in a tree

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (25)

Links to this Post

  1. Venus and Jupiter… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution | March 12, 2012
  1. Just went outside and saw it. That’s pretty awesome.

  2. Ed H.

    Won’t have a chance for a few more days as it’s going to be cloudy until Monday, but I got a good shot on Thursday, thanks!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/99375463@N00/6778617218/

  3. Bryan
  4. Brian

    That’s great! Took me a few minutes but I found it. Haven’t managed Jupiter yet but I’m going to try again. Thank you for a great Saturday project.

  5. SkyGazer

    h t t p //a1.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/420249_247435035344871_100002351283740_538083_1034694379_n.jpg

    (don´t know if the link works, but that was this evening with mu wifes Pentax SR)

  6. davem

    The last few days I’ve been seeing three very bright planets every evening (southern UK) . I thought they were Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. Looks like I’ve been mistaking Saturn for Mercury. They seem as bright as I’ve ever seen planets.

  7. AliCali

    I saw it, too! I needed binoculars, but it was far enough away from the Sun that there was no danger. I actually found some shade behind a tree, so the sun was blocked. My cousin and her six-year-old daughter were over, and they were very excited when they saw it.

    I’m digging this. I see so much in the sky. Besides Venus in the daytime, I also look for the ISS and other bright satellites, Iridium Flares, and now I’m trying to bag an Iridium Flare in the daytime, which isn’t easy. But I don’t need dark skies and haul out my telescope (although clouds are still a hindrance). There’s such a variety in the sky with just naked eyes and sometimes binoculars, even in Los Angeles lights.

  8. Miles Archer

    I tried and had my 13 year old daughter and friend also try. We couldn’t spot it. There are some wisps of high clouds, so that may be the problem.

    Will try again closer to sunset.

  9. Grand Lunar

    I got good at this when I lived in Florida.
    Also tried it on Jupiter!

  10. Kris

    I found the moon, but visibility is a bit too low today for me to see Venus. For anyone having trouble, try the Google Sky Map app on your phone. Just search for Venus and aim your phone where it tells you.

  11. Kris

    The clouds shifted a bit, and it stood out clear as day: http://maglione-k.users.sf.net/img_3062.jpg

    Brilliant.

  12. CameronSS

    Both spotted right away! It’s almost sunset — the sun is sitting on top of that grain elevator on the horizon — But the full disc is still fully visible, so I’m still counting it as daylight, no matter what Stephen Fry tries to tell me.

  13. Messier Tidy Upper

    Cloudy here, about 7/8ths at least overcast now in Adelaide, South Oz for the first time in a few days* – Murphy’s law strikes again. :-(

    If it clears, I’m certainly keen to try for seeing Venus.

    * 40 degrees celsius (104 Fahrenheit) yesterday and 37 (99 F rounded up) forecast for today in case folks are wondering.

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    @12. CameronSS : ” .. I’m still counting it as daylight, no matter what Stephen Fry tries to tell me.”

    I think they call it twilight actually! (No, not the series with vampires!) ;-)

  15. Jeffersonian

    I appreciate these types of posts.

    Last night my object of attention was Aldeberan (until I got sidetracked by Arcturus).
    Tonight it will be this.

  16. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Jeffersonian : Er, don’t you mean today? ;-)

  17. Here north of Seattle the sky was partially clear just before sunset, perfect look at Moon, Venus and Jupiter. The sky gods smile on us for once here in the PNW. The kids and I just stood out there and stared at it for a while. Had a nice talk with the 8 year old about the motion of the planets, where they would be looking down on the solar system and such. It was a nice surprise to actually see this when we came home today.

  18. We had a nice event at the San Antonio College Scobee Planetarium yesterday. Clickity on my name for a link to some of the photos from the event. While it was still daylight we were showing the visitors that you could see Venus near the moon. Our directions was to look about their thumbnail’s length in the 7:00 positino from the moon and they’d see Venus. Most could.

    A little later even Jupiter was visible in the daylight at sunset.

    jbs

  19. Raymond

    When the Moon is not decently placed I use Google Sky Map on my phone. I hold the phone at arms length then centre Venus on the phone then lift the phone while still looking in the same place and there is Venus behind it.

  20. Jeff

    I like your anecdote about seeing Venus at noon, I like stories like that. I can’t say I’ve seen it in broad daylight, but you’re right, it’s easy at twilight.

    Just a note about observing: Mercury has the rep of being an elusive planet and it is, but springs of 2010 and 2011 it was easy and bright for a change. I bring the class out for observing at least each term for years, and I can say the hours I spent out there were the best by far for reviving the spirit. Touch nature and you’ll feel better , as if you don’t already know that, but I fear today’s students are so myopic with all the techy stuff they don’t even know what planet they’re on. Our ancestors evolved in nature and I don’t think it’s good to remove society so much from it.

  21. Roger

    Had to cheat and use Google Sky Maps to help. :

  22. CR

    For the past three nights, I’ve watched the moon ‘slide’ up past Venus & Jupiter (from my northern hemisphere frame of reference)… sadly, I’ve not had my camera with me, nor the time to set it up even if I’ve had it.
    I have, though, been pointing the trio out to anyone who’ll listen & look. This often leads to my pointing out other features, like Orion & Taurus, which are pretty close in the sky to the moon. (I also pull the “you know, there’s another planet in your field of view” trick–referring to Earth, of course. Nobody’s figured it out yet, and I usually get a groan in response when I reveal the answer.)

  23. Carlos

    The close approach of Venus, Jupiter, and the moon really brought home the fact that the moon’s orbit is inclined with respect to the ecliptic. Although I’ve known about the 5 degree inclination of the moon’s orbit, I was surprised at just how clear this point was when looking at the trio.

  24. Rob Pettengill

    Great viewing of all the visible planets in Austin the past couple of days. Here is a shot taken on my iPhone with Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury all visible.

    https://picasaweb.google.com/101873086193253282065/3312#slideshow/5715761200464220050

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