Oct. 22, 2018: On Oct. 26th, Venus will pass almost directly between Earth and the sun–an event astronomers call “inferior solar conjunction.” As Venus approaches the sun, the planet is turning its night side toward Earth, reducing its luminous glow to a thin sliver. Shahrin Ahmad of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, took this picture on Oct. 19th:
“I took this picture in broad daylight,” says Ahmad. “Venus was really big in the eyepiece of my telescope–almost a full arcminute in diameter. And the crescent shape was easily visible in the 8×50 finder scope.”
In the days ahead, the crescent of Venus will become increasingly thin and circular. The horns of the crescent might actually touch when the Venus-sun angle is least (~6 degrees) on Oct. 26th. This is arguably the most beautiful time to observe Venus, but also the most perilous. The glare of the nearby sun magnified by a telescope can damage the eyes of anyone looking through the eyepiece.
Anthony J. Cook of the Griffith Observatory has some advice for observers: “I have observed Venus at conjunction, but only from within the shadow of a building, or by adding a mask to the front end of the telescope to fully shadow the optics from direct sunlight. This is tricky with a refractor or a catadioptric, because the optics start at the front end of the tube. Here at Griffith Observatory, I rotate the telescope dome to make sure the lens of the telescope is shaded from direct sunlight, even through it means that the lens will be partially blocked when aimed at Venus. With our Newtonian telescope, I add a curved cardboard mask at the front end of the tube to shadow the primary mirror.”
Earlier today, Richard Nugent of Framingham, Massachusetts, used a 10-inch telescope (masked down to 60 mm) and an iPhone 8Plus to photograph Venus in broad daylight:
“Venus is 1.3% illuminated and only 9°20′ from the sun!” says Nugent.