Venus Returns as the “Morning Star”

Venus, Mars, and Jupiter rise in the eastern sky before sunrise as seen on September 12, 2015. (Made with SkySafari 4).

Venus, Mars, and Jupiter rise in the eastern sky before sunrise as seen on September 12, 2015. (Made with SkySafari 4).

The planet Venus has returned to the sky at a “morning star”, shining brightly in the eastern sky before sunrise in the constellation Cancer, the Crab. Venus is by far the brightest object in the sky except for the Sun and Moon. It shines at magnitude -4.5, nearly as bright as it gets, and spans about 44″ when seen in a telescope. The face of the planet is a magnificent slender crescent shape just 18% illuminated by the Sun.

Venus is joined by Jupiter, which rises a little later and shines a little fainter. The two planets made a dramatic display in the evening sky earlier in 2015 and will now dominate the morning sky for the rest of the year. Too low in the sky to reveal much detail, Jupiter is still worth a look in binoculars or a small telescope, if just to see its fat disk and its four biggest moons make their way around the big planet. The planet now appears about 31″ across, much smaller than Venus, but fully illuminated.

Between the two bright planets, you also see the ochre glow of Mars, still relatively faint at magnitude +1.8 and just 3.8″ across. It’s far too small and distant to reveal any detail in a telescope. The planet will slowly brighten over the next 8 months on the way to opposition in May 2016. Just below Mars, closer to Jupiter, you see the icy white star Regulus in the constellation Leo, shining slightly brighter at magnitude +1.4.

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