When Can You See Venus?

Having bought a telescope earlier this year and having built an orrery, I have a passing interest in astronomy. Knowing this, I was recently asked an astronomy question:

“Is venus visible in the evening in the northern hemisphere or is it just a morning star? If so what time of year is it visible and in what direction?”

I thought I’d pop up my answer here:

All planets follow the same arced line across the sky as travelled by the Sun. This is because all planets orbit the sun on the same plane. So yes Venus can be see in the northern hemisphere, as all planets can (some with a telescope only). When and where it appears in the night depends on where it is in relation to us on our respective orbits round the Sun. If it’s at the far side of the Sun to us, it’ll only ever be “up” during the day, so we’ll never see it. This is where it is at the moment (October 2010):

From Jodrell Bank: Venus below Mars, may be seen low in the west-southwest just after sunset. It sets just 50 minutes after sunset and you will need a low west-south west horizon in order to see it. On October 1st it has an angular diameter of 45 arc seconds and shows a thin crescent phase with less than 20% of the surface being illuminated.

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