If you’re an early riser, up and about an hour or two before sunrise, look eastward to see the dazzling planet Venus pairing up very closely with Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull. Although Aldebaran ranks as a first-magnitude star, it pales next to Venus, the brightest star-like point of light in the morning sky. Venus outshines Aldebaran by over a hundredfold. But don’t mistake the blazing planet Jupiter for Aldebaran, which is about 15 times brighter than Aldebaran yet one-ninth the brightness of Venus. If you can’t see Aldebaran next to Venus with the unaided eye, try your luck with binoculars or a low-powered telescope.
Venus shines at its brilliant best as the morning “star” all this week. However, if you look at Venus through the telescope right now, you may be surprised to see that this world looks like a miniature version of the crescent moon. Tomorrow morning, before sunrise on July 9, a little less than one-quarter of Venus’ disk will be illuminated in sunlight while a little more than three-quarters of its disk will be under the cover of darkness.
Believe it or not, Venus doesn’t shine at its brightest when it’s at full phase – like the full moon does. Rather, Venus beams most brilliantly when it’s a crescent – about 25% illuminated in sunlight and 75% covered over in its own shadow. Ever since Venus entered the morning sky on June 6, Venus was closer to Earth than it is at present, but its crescent was too thin for Venus to exhibit maximum brightness. Venus’ illuminated portion will cover over the greatest area of sky on July 12.
After today, Venus’ phase will increase. Yet, Venus distance from Earth will also increase. But no matter what, Venus is always the most brilliant celestial object to bedeck the heavens after the sun and the moon. So look for this lighthouse of a planet to predominate in your morning sky for the rest of the year.
The star Aldebaran is coupling up with Venus as this world shines at its greatest brilliancy in the morning sky. Use binoculars to glimpse Aldebaran in the glare of Venus, for these two orbs will stay close enough together on the sky’s dome to occupy the same binocular field of view for all of this next week!