During the first half of 2004 Venus puts in an unmistakable appearance as the Evening Star, being obvious from shortly after sunset as the brightest thing in the western sky. It follows an orbit inside that of the Earth and is therefore catching us up, rounding the Sun as it comes and getting larger, but presenting more of its dark side towards us as it does so.
Although few details are ever visible owing to the planet's thick blanket of cloud cover, the changing size and phase makes an interesting sight to follow. I intend to track it up to its transit directly across the face of the Sun on 8th June 2004 - a rare event that last happened in 1882.
Venus; 9 Apr 2004, 21:15BST (20:15UT)
Venus passed greatest elongation East of the Sun 11 days ago, at which point it presents equal amounts of sunlit and dark sides towards us, and so looks like a half moon. From now on more of the dark side is turned towards us - here 45% of the sunlit side is visible, and the crescent will continue to narrow for the next 2 months as the Sun - Earth - Venus angle continues to narrow. Today it is 45 degrees.
This image is presented as the view would be in the sky, with North up and East to the left. The sun, therefore, shines from the right.
Visually the planet is a very bright yellowish white colour, but showed no features oher than its shape. The dark band near the edge of the disk at centre right is an artefact of the image processing to clean up the unsteady images.
Venus; 2 May 2004, 20:48BST (19:48UT)
Venus reaches its maximum brightness to the naked eye this week. The distance has decreased from 92 to 68 million km, with a corresponding increase in size. However, the phase has shrunk to 28% as more of the dark side becomes turned towards us - the Sun - Earth - Venus angle is now 39 degrees.
This picture is shown in black and white to eliminate spurious colour arising from the poor quality of the viewing this evening, even using a blue #80A filter. Given that Venus shows no true colour markings nothing is lost by doing this - in fact I think it improves the appearance.
Venus; 16 May 2004, 20:52BST (19:52UT)
No, this is not the Moon! The crescent continues to narrow, though the apparent diameter is still increasing as the planet's distance drops to 56 million km and the Sun - Earth - Venus angle drops to 30 degrees.
On 21st May, our Moon, just 2 days past New and so appearing as a crescent very much like Venus, passes directly in front of Venus. This is a difficult event to observe as it happens around mid-day UK time, but is a fine opportunity to compare the relative size of the two objects.
Unfortunately the day proved too cloudy to catch the event, but by evening the clouds cleared and not only Venus and the Moon, but also Mars and Saturn revealed themselves. The Moon, now 8 hours past its encounter with Venus, was too far from Venus (4 degrees) to be seen in the same field of view in the telescope. However, photos taken of them separately reveal the difference in size, as Venus, though 4 times larger than the Moon, is over 120 times further away.
Venus; 23 May 2004, 20:08BST (19:08UT)
The disk diameter continues to grow, now reaching 51 seconds of arc as the distance drops to 48 million km. The crescent has also narrowed further to 7 percent as the elongation of Venus from the Sun drops to 21 degrees.
This shot was taken in daylight, about half an hour before sunset, hence the lighter background than previously. The steadiness of the seeing was terrible but I managed to salvage enough frames to produce a reasonable image. I have also swapped to a Baader infra-red rejection filter instead of my usual #80A blue to improve the contrast against the already blue sky.
Venus draws rapidly in towards the Sun and I suspect that this might be the last opportunity to catch it in my big telescope before the transit on June 8th.
Venus; 31 May 2004, 11:34BST (10:34UT)
Venus has now reached 55 seconds of arc in diameter as it the distance has dropped to 45 million km. The phase is a mere 3%, though looks more because of blurring caused by poor atmospheric viewing. It has now almost reached its minimum distance from us, and hence maximum diameter.
This view is only one quarter the scale of the previous ones as I used my small Helios telescope for this shot - the same as I hope to catch the upcoming transit with.
Venus is a poor shadow of its former glory in the evening sky, very low down in the west after sunset and setting about 1 hour after the Sun. To get a better view, this picture was taken before noon, while it was high in the sky. Locating Venus was quite hard as it lies only 12 degrees from the Sun, and care must be taken to avoid hitting the Sun by mistake.
This is a full colour shot, taken through a Baader IR rejection filter, but with the sky darkened to improve the contrast of Venus.
Transit Day - the first time Venus has crossed the face of the Sun since 1882, 122 years ago! See here for a full report and lots more pictures.
This frame catches the moment of Second Contact (05:40), and was taken from Mirepoix, in the Languedoc region of southern France.
The scale of this picture is the same as that of 31 May 2004.