See Venus before sunrise
The brightest planet – Venus – orbits the sun one step inward from Earth. So we always see it near the sun in our sky, either east before sunrise, or west after sunset. It’s always beautiful, and interesting. But there’s always a time when Venus appears farthest from the sunrise or sunset. And now’s the time. Astronomers call it a greatest elongation of Venus. You’ll easily see Venus now, shortly before sunrise, above (or to one side) of the sunrise point. The moment of greatest elongation happens at 9 UTC (4 a.m. CDT) on March 20, 2022. Clouded out? Never fear. Venus is always a sight to see!
Even better, Venus has company! Spot Mars and Saturn not far from dazzling Venus.
At this greatest elongation, Venus will be about 46 degrees from the sun on the sky’s dome. In the Northern Hemisphere, the angle of the ecliptic – the path of the planets and sun across our sky – is shallow at this time of year. That means Venus will be above the southeastern horizon shortly before sunup. The view is better in the Southern Hemisphere on March mornings. From the southern part of Earth’s globe, the ecliptic is angled steeply with respect to the horizon. So Venus appears higher up, in a darker sky, before sunrise.
By coincidence, this greatest elongation of Venus occurs within hours of the March equinox.
Venus and friends
You might also notice two other points of light near Venus, also in front of Capricornus. The point of light closest to Venus might look a little red to you. That’s because it’s Mars, the Red Planet, shining at magnitude 1.1 around mid-March 2022. A bit farther away and closer to the horizon is golden Saturn. Saturn is technically a bit brighter than Mars around mid-March 2022 at magnitude 0.8. But because Saturn is closer to the light of the rising sun, it won’t necessarily be easier to see.
Venus before sunrise: Rising times
Here’s when to start looking for Venus in the morning sky, based on your location:
60 degrees north latitude (Anchorage, Alaska, for example): Venus rises about one hour before the sun
40 degrees north latitude (Denver, Colorado, for example): Venus rises about 2 hours before the sun
Equator, 0 degrees latitude (Singapore, for example): Venus rises about 3 hours before the sun
40 degrees south latitude (Wellington, New Zealand, for example): Venus rises almost 4 hours before the sun
Want more specific information? Click here for a sky almanac.
Spring versus fall elongations
Morning elongations of Venus (or Mercury) are best in the fall. These elongations, called western elongations, have a steeper path above the horizon. Springtime elongations that occur in the morning are less glorious because of the shallow angle of the planets, which keeps them closer to the bright sun’s rays.
The angle of the ecliptic is what determines how high or low Venus is after sunset or before sunrise. The angle in the evening is low to the horizon in autumn and steep in spring. In the morning, this is the opposite. The angle is low to the horizon in spring and steep in the fall. As the sun, moon and planets travel on the ecliptic when the angle is steep, a planet appears farther above the horizon and is visible for longer in a dark sky. Therefore, greatest elongations west, or in the morning, are better in the fall. Greatest elongations east, or those in the evening, are best in the spring.
Bottom line: See Venus before sunrise. The brilliant planet reaches greatest elongation – farthest from the sun on the sky’s dome – on March 20, 2022. Look east before the sun comes up.