If you are out and about this month just after sunset take a look over to the west and you’ll see a bright, white pin-point of light in the sky. You won’t miss it on a clear evening. That’s Venus, the second planet from the sun, named for the Roman goddess of beauty. Venus has been racing from behind the sun toward earth and just yesterday reached the greatest angular distance it can travel in its orbit around the giant fireball. From our view here on Earth that point is called maximum elongation. For earthbound viewers that also means it has reached the highest point at which it can be seen in the sky after becoming visible in the fading sunlight. And while you are out glance up just to left of Venus and you’ll see another bright object. That’s the planet Jupiter. Keep an eye on Venus and Jupiter over the next three weeks and you’ll be amazed at what you see. From our vantage point, the two planets are moving closer to one another in their orbits and on June 30 and July 1 they will form a conjunction and appear to become one bright object in the Western sky. An event not to be missed. Over the summer Venus will fall back toward the horizon and move between earth and the sun. In September Venus will reappear in the southeastern sky and will rise higher and higher each morning until it reaches maximum elongation on October 26. But you will want to rise early to be out just before sunrise on October 28 to see one of the rarest events in sky watching; a dazzling three-planet conjunction of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. So, find a moment to pause from the evening routine over the next few weeks and step out on a clear night with friends and family to see the beauty in the night sky. You'll be glad you did. And, you can impress them with big words like conjunction and maximum elongation!
Michael E. Palmer is a writer and photographer based in Alabama.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org