Your last chance to see Venus for the next few weeks

By Phil Plait | May 26, 2012 7:00 am

As I usually do when I go outside at twilight, I glanced over to the west to look for Venus… and it was much lower toward the horizon than I was expecting. I shouldn’t have been surprised; in two weeks it’s due for a close encounter with the Sun. On June 5/6, it’ll pass directly between us and the Sun in an event called a transit. I’ll have more info on that later, though you can read up about it at the Transit of Venus website.

I set up my binoculars and even with such low power, Venus was an obvious crescent! I held my phone up to the eyepiece and took this shot:

It’s out of focus a bit, but you can see the phase. As Venus races past the Earth in its orbit, it gets a bit closer to us but presents a thinner crescent every day. It’s moving so quickly now that you only really have a few more days to take a look before it’s too close to the Sun to see comfortably. And then on June 5th it’ll look a lot different!


Related Posts:

Venus rounds the corner
It’s just a phase
Venus

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Venus, Venus transit

Comments (18)

  1. RAF

    Looks like my picture of the eclipse…out of focus, but you can tell whats “going on”.

  2. Chris

    Phil, just curious, but what telescopes do you own?

  3. Alan

    On June 1st at 20:15UT Venus will be 0.2 degrees from Mercury, and within 1 degree for 8 hours before and 8 hours after. This will be tough to see with the naked eye, but a GoTo telelscope should be able to show them during the day, using the moon for alignment.

  4. I love it, you did that with binoculars and a cell phone camera! And it’s not even a “wonder” to people anymore. That technology has opened up the world to people like this is in itself quite amazing. I just can’t understand how people get frightened or put off by science when it’s all around them like this, and so accessible!

    (And yet we have people who would rather adhere to bronze age fables as their world view… Shocking really!)

  5. NCSmith

    LarianLeQuella, it might not be a wonder that this can be done, but I am still one of those who does wonder HOW it was done. I am not referring to the technology – that I get – but how was Phil Plaitt able to hold two separate devices and still get something that was pretty good? He must have extremely steady hands.

  6. Justin

    This is just speculation, but I imagine he used a tripod for his binocs. Many people who are into astronomy or binoculars equipped to be mounted ona tripod. Further, he said “set up my binoculars” which would sound extreme if he only meant “took off the lens caps and put the strap around my neck” :) Again, however, I am merely speculating. Beautiful pic, Phil!

  7. I love to see people experimenting with their camera phones. The fact that the phone has a tiny lens and is small and lightweight facilitates looking through instruments made for your eye. Try experimenting with it – you might surprise yourself! If not a phone, you can even use the webcam on your laptop.

    (I made this picture of a bug just by holding an Android tablet up to the eyepiece of a microscope. )

  8. Musical Lottie

    I went out and had a look through my 20x50s at Venus’ crescent – it’s awesome! Thanks for the heads-up; I hadn’t thought that we’d be able to see the crescent just through binoculars (that’ll teach me!).

  9. Electro

    DOH!!!
    I was determined to get some sort of shot of Venus last week.
    I even had high power binocs, a 20MP camera and a clear night.
    I heard snipers use sandbags as rests to dampen their motions. So I set up a throw pillow on a trash can and fought for 10 minutes to get it into focus.
    Every shot came out as crescent. I was convinced I had miniscule flaw in the optics, and that if I could get it just right, it would resolve to a disk.
    It never occurred to me that Venus would have phases.

  10. I often wonder if Venus would have been a larger planet, so we could just see the phases with the naked eye, how would our view on the mechanics of the solar system have evolved? Would there ever have been theories proclaiming that he earth is at the center of the universe, or would we have realised from a very early age that this couldn’t bee true.

  11. Kevin Anthoney

    Jules @10

    I don’t think it would have made any difference. Phases don’t imply that something orbits the Sun instead of the Earth – the Moon has phases too.

  12. MadScientist

    I dusted off the ancient integrating sextant and it does have a filter which allows me to look directly at the sun. The optics is excellent but only x2 magnification. :( I think I’ll be straining to see Venus as a tiny black dot on the sun’s disk.

  13. Tribeca Mike

    FYI, I’m visiting the northern ‘burbs of Baltimore and just caught sight of a shooting star at 12:40 am, but unlike any I’ve ever seen. It only lasted a split second and resembled a “wiggly worm,” or a spermatozoa from a 1950’s Disney educational flick. It wasn’t moving in a straight line, but wobbled like a drunken duck. If I’d been blinking my eyes, I would have missed it.

  14. Richard Woods

    @13 Tribeca Mike

    During Perseid parties I’ve seen wriggly meteors, including one that just spiraled around one point (i.e., it was headed “straight” toward us).

  15. Messier Tidy Upper

    @10. Jules Stoop :

    I often wonder if Venus would have been a larger planet, so we could just see the phases with the naked eye, how would our view on the mechanics of the solar system have evolved? Would there ever have been theories proclaiming that he earth is at the center of the universe, or would we have realised from a very early age that this couldn’t be true.

    Isaac Asimov has suggested something like that may have happened if Venus had a large moon (dubbed “Cupid”) instead of – or as well as – our Earth. This was in the opening chapter of his excellent non-fiction book ‘The Tragedy of the Moon’ (Coronet, 1975 – first published 1972.) which I’d highly recommend reading if you can find a copy somewhere.

    BTW. I could be mistaken but I think I’ve heard or read somewhere that exceptionally keen sighted people can actually detect the phases of Venus with their unaided eyes.

  16. Nigel Depledge

    NC Smith (5) said:

    how was Phil Plaitt able to hold two separate devices and still get something that was pretty good? He must have extremely steady hands.

    I believe Phil has a tripod for his bins.

  17. Justin

    @10 Jules and @11 Kevin:

    For phases to occur, another object needs to pass betwen the Earth and the Sun. Since motion is relative, that does not necessarily require the Earth to move. (Granted, I don’t think Aristotle and Ptolemy were aware of relative motion…) In the geocentric model of the universe, the model had Earth in the center. Then, in the next sphere lay Moon, followed by Venus, and then the Sun. (There was other stuff past the sun, like Jupiter, but not important right now). That being said, I believe as the Moon/Venus traveled around the Earth being in front of the Sun sometimes and on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun other times, the phases could be explained.

    However, from my few minutes of research, it appears the phases of Venus were first observed by Galileo in 1610. According to Wikipedia (try not laugh) – “Although the extreme crescent phase of Venus has been observed with the naked eye, there are no indisputable historical pre-telescopic records of it being observed.” So then, I wonder, why did the geocentric model of the universe necessarily place Venus between the Earth and the Sun?

  18. Matt B.

    Venus should appear about 1/32 as big as the Sun, so slightly less than 1 arcminute. I still have my fingers crossed that I’ll get my eclipse shades in time. If not, I’ll try layering normal sunglasses, or polarized-light filters.

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