Venus and Mars get close in the evening sky

Venus continues to dazzle in the evening sky and is hard to miss as dusk falls. Over the next few days you can watch as it comes close in the sky to another planet, Mars.

Mars and Venus view
A computer-produced image showing how Mars and Venus will look to the south-west in the early evening sky on January 24 from the mid-northern latitude of London. Image by Skymania using Stellarium

You may already have noticed a moderately bright “star” near Venus and not thought much about it. From mid-northern latitudes, it currently appears to the upper left of Venus at dusk. From Southern Hemisphere locations such as Cape Town, Sydney and Wellington, it shines to the upper right.

This “star” is really the planet Mars. It is now much fainter than it was when closest to Earth in May 2016, but is still as prominent as some of the brightest stars at magnitude 1. However, it is put in the shade by the overpowering brilliance of Venus, our inner neighbour world, which is the brightest object in the night sky after the Moon, and is shining at -4.5 at the moment.

(Astronomical brightness is measured in magnitudes, where the smaller the number, the brighter the object. Those with negative values are the brightest in the sky.)

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How to observe Venus

Venus – our neighbour from hell

Positions of Mars and Venus
The changing positions of Mars and Venus in the sky at 19h UT on the dates shown from mid-January to late February (month-day) at mid-northern latitudes. Chart by Skymania using Cartes du Ciel

Venus and Mars come to a distance of a little over 5° from each other at the very end of January and in the first week of February. It will make for an interesting view and a photographic opportunity, particularly on January 31 and February 1 when the crescent Moon will lie close by.

Of course, Venus and Mars are not really close together but widely separated in the Solar System, so it is purely a line-of-sight effect. Mars is currently on the far side of the Sun while Venus is on the same side as the Earth from where we are observing.

Our guide to Mars

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

One thought on “Venus and Mars get close in the evening sky

  • 02/01/2017 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks for the great post, Paul. Venus has been amazing over the last week or so. I should catch the waxing crescent moon near Venus tonight.

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