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March 20, 2006
WAUKESHA, WI – The “morning star” Venus lights the sky before dawn, heralding spring’s arrival. On March 25, the brilliant planet reaches its greatest western elongation – when the planet is as far west of the Sun as possible. Then, it sits just above the horizon in the east-southeast sky 2 hours before sunrise. Look for the waning crescent Moon passing to the right of the “morning star.” Venus will be the bright object just to the upper left of the Moon.
Each day thereafter, Venus’ sky position sinks closer to the horizon. Venus shone at its brightest, magnitude -4.6, in February, but the planet will dominate the morning sky throughout summer.
Take a look
To the naked eye, Venus’ light rivals only moonshine in the early morning sky. But you can use a telescope to watch as the planet changes phases, like the Moon’s, during the year. By March 25, its globe measures 25″ through a telescope and has fattened to half-lit. It’s at its brightest for the year now; even though the phase increases, its angular size decreases as the Earth-Venus distance increases.
Our “sister planet” lies an average of 67 million miles (108 million kilometers) from the Sun. Because Venus lies closer to the Sun than Earth, it always appears close to our star in the sky.
On March 26, Venus and the Moon help you spot a rarely seen planet: Neptune. At about 5 A.M. local time, Venus appears slightly north of (above) Neptune. The Moon lies just below and to the left of the planets.