Seeing Venus with a telescope is not at all tricky.
It is the brightest object in the night sky, after the moon, so finding it – when it’s visible – is not hard. In this article, we’re going to show you when and where to look for it, and what you can see of Venus when you point your scope at it.
Venus is said to be Earth’s sister because Venus is a terrestrial planet of similar size and proximity to Earth.
However, while our home planet sits lush, fertile, and brimming with oceans and various forms of life, Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system. Its barren wasteland of rock and lava flows with atmospheric temperatures that can melt lead.
The carbon dioxide surrounding the planet has caused a runaway greenhouse effect as it traps the heat from our sun within the planet’s atmosphere. The resulting temperatures can hover around 900°F on its dry, rocky surface.
Why is Venus So Bright?
While Venus is a sight to behold in the night sky, it is perpetually covered in the thick clouds of its atmosphere. These clouds reflect over two-thirds of the sunlight hitting their surface.
Combine that reflectivity with the short distance from Earth to Venus, just 24 million miles at its closest and 162 million miles at its furthest, and you see why the planet appears so bright.
The positive side of this brightness, which can reach an apparent magnitude of -4.9, and never dimmer than -3.0, is that you can’t fail to find the planet when it’s out.
The downside of all that thick cloud is that it’s impossible to see any surface features on Venus. What we can observe is the waxing and waning disc, which we’ll come back to in more detail, shortly.
When Is Venus Visible?
Venus is almost exclusively seen as either a morning or evening ‘star’. It is closer to the sun than we are and so, on its journey around our star, we can only see it when it is off to the side of the Sun from our perspective.
The effect of that is to place Venus always quite close to the Sun – but not as markedly as little Mercury – so we either see it low over the horizon towards the east before sunrise or towards the west after sunset.
In 2023, Venus graces the skies multiple times throughout the year, beginning with its conjunction with Saturn on January 22, and followed by a second conjunction with Jupiter on March 1.
It can also be spotted during its two greatest elongations in early June and late October. At these times, it will be the farthest possible distance from our Sun.
It reaches its greatest elongation on June 4, 2023 at 7 UTC with its magnitude being -4.3. Its greatest elongation later in the year will happen on October 23 at 16 UTC, when it will be a magnitude of -4.4. According to EarthSky, observers in the northern hemisphere will see the planet higher up in their sky compared to those in the southern hemisphere.
If you like more detail for each month of this year, then use our guide to seeing Venus 2023 (opens in a new tab).
How to Find Venus in the Night Sky
As you’ve just read, there is plenty of opportunity to see Venus in the night sky this year.
Here’s our guide to getting the best of Venus in 2023.
Step 1 – Is Venus in the Sky Tonight?
Venus is usually found in the east before the sun rises and in the west after the sun sets: in late January, it starts off by setting 90 minutes after sunset and slowly increases to 3.5 hours after sunset by the time May rolls around. This would mark its maximum time this year as an evening star.
(If you are new to measuring angles, take a look at our article on how to make measuring degrees simple by using your hands.)
For precise details on where to find Venus for your location and time of observing, use the free software Stellarium, or SkySafari 6.
Step 2 – Finding Venus Without A Telescope
For Venus, this step is easy. Venus is the brightest object in the night sky after the Moon.
Most of this year, it can be found low on the eastern horizon at least half an hour before sunrise. You shouldn’t mistake it for any other object because it is simply so bright.
Once you think you have it, go to the next step for confirmation, which can be done with a telescope or a decent pair of astro binoculars.
Step 3 – Finding Venus With A Small Telescope
Make sure (beforehand) that you’ve aligned your finderscope with your telescope. Next, put a medium-low magnification eyepiece in your scope.
Center the bright ‘star’ you located in step 2 in the middle of your finderscope and take a look at it through your main telescope.
If what you’ve found is a regular old star, it will still look like a point of light through your eyepiece. However, if you’ve got Venus in view, it will appear as a definite disc.
In fact, it will appear as a crescent, much like the moon. We only ever see phases of Venus and that’s because we always see it off to one side of the sun. When it is directly in front or behind the sun, we can’t see it because the sun outshines it.
The image below gives you a sense of what you should expect to see of Venus in your telescope.
Congratulations on seeing Venus with your telescope! Experiment with different magnifications to see what detail you can tease out.
Targets to Look For When Observing Venus With a Small Telescope
We’d love this section to be full and exciting but, sadly, that’s not the case with Venus.
The planet has no moons and, although it is bright and nearby, there are no features to see in its cloud cover and no surface features to glimpse through the clouds.
The one thing we do have is crescent phasing.
It can be fun and interesting to catalog and view it between its various phases. If you take the time to do that, the one thing that becomes evident is that the closer the planet gets to us, and so brighter, its crescent gets thinner and thinner, creating a spectacular sight in a magnifying eyepiece.
The picture below gives a sense of what Venus looks like through a telescope.
Venus is our sister planet in size and proximity, but she is a hot, cloudy, featureless body. Find out more about why Venus is so hot, here.
This makes for easy identification because the planet is large and bright, but it reveals little to us in the telescope.
The one thing we can observe and track is its changing phase as Venus orbits around the Sun inside our own planet’s path.