April 27, 2020 (EDT), or April 28, 2020 (UT), is officially the planet’s brightest evening in years—though the planet will dazzle you anytime this week. It’s so unusually high and brilliant, it’s safe to say that you’ve never seen it looking better, not in your whole life.
How to Find Venus
After the Moon, Venus is easily the night sky’s brightest object all of April 2020—and she’s now shining at her very best of the year.
While Venus shows up every two years or so, it’s usually rather low, and normally not this bright. But right now it’s as high as it can get. And although Venus has been visible after sunset since the autumn, it is now at its very best.
You don’t need a Sky Map. Venus is ridiculously easy to find. From anywhere in the world, just look generally west once the sun has set. Venus will be visible around halfway between the horizon and the zenith (above your head). To me, the best time to watch dazzling Venus is 7:30 or 8 PM each evening. Venus keeps on shining brightly for many hours, finally setting after midnight.
But timing is everything, and this show has a limited run. Here are the remaining highlights this month:
Weekend of April 25 to 26
Starting April 25, the beauty of the young crescent Moon and Venus pairing will sweep you away. On Saturday, the 25th, the slender crescent Moon can be spotted right beneath Venus; on Sunday, the 26th, the waxing crescent moon hovers very nearby the bright planet in the twilight.
April 27 (EDT)/April 28 (UT): Maximum Magnitude
On the 27th (EDT)/28th (UT) of April, Venus reaches a milestone which is called Venus’ “greatest illuminated extent” (when the lighted portion of the planet covers the greatest area of our sky’s dome). At this moment, the planet is at maximum magnitude. (Magnitude is a measurement of brightness used by astronomers.)
Specifically, Venus reaches a magnitude of -4.7, the brightest it will become this year, and appearing nine times brighter than its nearest planetary competitor (Jupiter). Venus is so bright that she may actually cast a shadow (similar to the Moon) on a sheet or snowy surface if you’re away from all artificial lights.
Venus will reach its greatest illuminated extent at 9 p.m. EDT. But simply look for Venus west after sunset—wherever you live in the world. She will be lovely sight for just the naked eye, and even more stunning through binoculars. Dig out that old pair you’ve got lying in a drawer somewhere, and point them toward the west.
Too Good to Last
But this is too good to last forever. Venus is normally a fairly low-down object and this is her highest-up, most brilliant apparition since 2012, but in May she will rapidly sink lower and lower as seen each evening, and will vanish into the Sun’s twilight glare by June 3, 2020.
But these next several days, at dusk and early evening, Venus will be shining at her brightest best in the evening sky. Between her unusually great height and the maximum brilliance, it’s no exaggeration that we are seeing the most stunning Evening Star ever.