Venus at greatest elongation west

Sunday 6th Jan 201906:02

Venus will be well placed for observation in the dawn sky, shining brightly at mag -4.4.

From London, it will rise at 04:09 (BST) – 3 hours and 56 minutes before the Sun – and reach an altitude of 20° above the southern horizon before fading from view as dawn breaks at around 07:38.

Venus’s orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth’s, meaning that it always appears close to the Sun and is very difficult to observe most of the time.

It is observable only for a few weeks each time it reaches greatest separation from the Sun – moments referred to as greatest elongation.

On these occasions, however, Venus is so bright and conspicuous that it becomes the third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon. It is often called the morning or evening star.

These apparitions take place alternately in the morning and evening skies, depending whether Venus lies to the east of the Sun or to the west.

When it lies to the east, it rises and sets a short time after the Sun and is visible in early evening twilight. When it lies to the west of the Sun, it rises and sets a short time before the Sun and is visible shortly before sunrise.

On this occasion, it lies 46° to the Sun’s west.

Venus in coming weeks

The key moments in this apparition of Venus are as follows:

26 Oct 2018 15:11 BST  – Venus at inferior solar conjunction
30 Nov 2018 02:23 GMT  – Venus at greatest brightness
05 Jan 2019 19:16 GMT  – Venus at dichotomy
06 Jan 2019 06:02 GMT  – Venus at greatest elongation west

After greatest elongation, the distance between Venus and the Sun will decrease each night as it sinks back into the Sun’s glare. The table below lists how long before sunrise Venus will rise each night; all times are given in London local time.

Date Sun
sets at
rises at
Altitude of Venus
at sunrise
Direction of Venus
at sunrise
30 Dec 2018 08:05 03:59 23° west
06 Jan 2019 08:04 04:09 21° west
13 Jan 2019 08:00 04:20 19° west
20 Jan 2019 07:54 04:32 18° west
27 Jan 2019 07:46 04:44 16° west
03 Feb 2019 07:35 04:54 15° west
10 Feb 2019 07:24 05:02 13° west
17 Feb 2019 07:11 05:08 12° west
24 Feb 2019 06:56 05:11 11° west
03 Mar 2019 06:42 05:11 10° west
10 Mar 2019 06:26 05:08 west

A graph of the angular separation of Venus from the Sun around the time of greatest elongation is available here.

Venus’s position

The position of Venus when it reaches greatest elongation will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Magnitude Angular Size
Venus 15h48m10s -16°27' Libra -4.4 24.7"
Sun 19h06m -22°33' Sagittarius -26.7 32'31"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

Seasonal effects

At each apparition, Venus reaches a similar separation from the Sun – around 48°. This distance is set by the geometry of how big Venus’s orbit is, and how far away it is from the Earth.

Nonetheless, some times of the year are more favourable for viewing Venus than others.

It appears most favourably in the evening sky around the time of the local spring equinox, and most favourably in the morning sky around the local autumn equinox.

These dates are reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres, such that a good apparition in one hemisphere will not be easily observable from the other.

This is comes about because Venus always lies close to the line of the ecliptic, shown in yellow in the planetarium above. This is the line through the zodiacal constellations that the Sun follows through the year, and marks the flat plane in space in which all of the planets circle the Sun.

When Venus rises a few hours ahead of the Sun, the altitude it reaches Venus above the horizon before sunrise depends on two factors.

One is its angular separation from the Sun. But equally important is how steeply the line of the ecliptic is inclined to the horizon.

If Venus is widely separated from the Sun along the ecliptic, this may not translate into a high altitude if the ecliptic meets the horizon at a very shallow angle, running almost parallel to it.

Conversely, if the ecliptic is almost perpendicular to the horizon, a much smaller separation from the Sun may place Venus higher in the sky.

The inclination of the ecliptic plane to the horizon at London varies between 61° (sunrise at the autumn equinox) and 15° (sunrise at the spring equinox). On January 6, the ecliptic is inclined at 25° to the eastern dawn horizon, as shown by the yellow line in the planetarium view above, meaning that on this occasion Venus is poorly placed for viewing from London.

This entry in the observing calendar was provided by