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.
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.)
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.