This Week's Night Sky: Look Up to Catch Venus in Prime Time

Venus will be bright and easy to find, helping even the most amateur sky-watcher get started on spotting the planets.

The goddess of love puts on her best appearance this week as Venus takes center stage early Monday evening and lives up to the name of evening star.

Venus visits Twins.  As darkness falls on Monday, June 1, skywatchers can catch Venus, named for the goddess of love, snuggle up with constellation Gemini, the twins, named for its two bright stars Pollux and Castor.

Brilliant Venus will appear to line up to the left of the two stars, making for a pretty sight visible with the naked eye. The 33-light-year distant Pollux will be only about 5 degrees from the planet—equal to about the width of your 3 middle fingers held at arm’s length.

Lord of the Ring.  Also on Monday night, you can turn to face the opposite direction, looking east, and catch sight of the nearly full moon appearing close to Saturn.

The ringed gas giant is just past opposition, or opposite the sun in the sky, when it's at its biggest and brightest, so expect telescope views to be particularly amazing.  

While the moon is only 1.3 light-seconds away, light from Saturn takes nearly 75 minutes to travel to Earth.

Keep tabs on the cosmic duo throughout from dusk into the night and you’ll notice that the moon will start out only 2 degrees from Saturn and then will slowly pull away until the two are more than 5 degrees apart in the early morning hours.

Scorpion Triad. At nightfall on Tuesday, June 2, the full moon will appear to form an eye-catching triangular pattern with bright orange star Antares in Scorpius constellation and yellow-tinged Saturn to its upper right.

Jovian Shadows. Late night on Wednesday, June 3, backyard telescopes trained on Jupiter can watch two large moons of Jupiter cast shadows as tiny black dots on their host planet.  

Best viewed from eastern North America, Ganymede and Io’s dark silhouettes appear to glide across the upper cloud deck of the gas giant from 9:58 p.m. to 11:13 p.m. PDT.

Venus Prime Time.  Look for the beacon of Venus about a half-hour after sunset on Saturday, June 6, above the southwest horizon.

The second-to-innermost planet, affectionately called the ‘evening star,’ will today appear at its farthest point from the sun, also called its greatest elongation. Sitting some 45 degrees east of the sun, Venus will shine at -4.4 magnitude, making it about 10 times brighter than Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, visible to its upper left.

After Saturday, Venus will sink closer to the horizon and the sun each day. By August 10th it will disappear in the glare of the sun and will reappear in the morning sky.

While Venus appears impressive to the naked eye all summer long, through even small telescopes, high magnification reveals the planet to be half-lit, much like a miniature quarter moon—a sight worth enjoying.

Happy hunting!

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the moon is 1.3 light-minutes from Earth. The correct distance is 1.3 light-seconds.

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