A Striking Appearance for Venus
Venus, the planet named for the Greek goddess of love and beauty, lives up to its name in every June with a series of beautiful apparitions in the evening sky. Venus reaches its greatest elongation – its greatest separation from the Sun as viewed from Earth – on June 13. On that evening, the planet appears at its highest in the sky and remains visible in the west in the Northern hemisphere several hours after sunset.
But even more spectacularly, Venus appears very near two other bright planets, Mars and Jupiter, in June. Early on the evening of June 17, as seen from the Western Hemisphere, Venus passes 1.2 north of Jupiter. Six days later Venus appears just 0.3 from the Red Planet Mars. You can follow the celestial meandering of the three planets throughout the month by observing them every clear night.
Venus is by far the brightest of the three planets, with Jupiter next and Mars last. Aside from the Moon, Venus is the brightest object in our night sky.
The planet Venus is bright for two reasons. First, it is very near Earth (at least in astronomical terms), whisking to within 26 million miles of our planet at its nearest point. Second, Venus is shrouded by by a veil of bright clouds that reflects nearly two-thirds of the sunlight reaching the planet.
For centuries, the clouds kept astronomers from peering at Venusian surface and helped foster the planet`s image as Earth’s heavenly twin. But American and Soviet Venusian space probes have given us a picture not of paradise but of hell: a surface awash in dusky reddish-orange light, an atmospheric pressure more than ninety times as great as Earth’s, as a surface temperature of 900 Fahrenheit. The highly reflective clouds are composed of sulfuric acid droplets.