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Venus: diamond in the sky

Occasionally this winter we have been able to see the sunset and the night sky. Amazing, I know, but it's true... once in a while the clouds have parted! As the Sun's light fades from the sky the "first star we see tonight" isn't a star at all; it's the glorious planet Venus -- third brightest light in our sky after the Sun and Moon.Image: Venus at sunset Feb. 5, 2009. by James Guilford

In January, Venus reached a point in its orbit known as maximum elongation. This means that, from the point of view of an observer on Earth, Venus sat farthest from the Sun and thus highest above the horizon in a continuing cycle of movement through our skies.

As the weeks and months march on we'll nightly see Venus sinking lower and lower in the west after sunset until it disappears into the glare of the Sun.

Until then, step outdoors on a clear (or partly cloudy) evening as the glow of the Sun wanes in the west. From the western to southwestern horizon scan upward with your eyes and look for a dot of light --the first "star" of the night-- and take in the beauty of that distant world shining "like a diamond in the sky."

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