MUST-SEE SUNSET PHENOMENON: Like the Moon, Venus has phases, and this week it is a whisper-thin crescent. The phenomenon is easy to observe. Venus is so bright, you can see it at sunset even before the sky fades to black. To the naked eye, Venus looks like an unusually luminous star. A pair of binoculars or a small telescope reveals the planet's crescent shape.
This composite image shows how Venus looks to the naked eye and through a telescope:
The sunset self-portrait was made by Jean-Baptiste Feldmann of Nuits-Saint-Georges, France. The telescopic inset was recorded by Sylvain Weiller of Saint Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, France. "The crescent is becoming very thin," says Weiller. "Venus no longer looks like a planet. It's more like a solar eclipse!"
Venus looks the way it does because it is turning its night side toward Earth. Today, only a 4% sliver of Venus's dayside is visible. On Jan. 11th, Venus will pass almost directly between Earth and the sun. At that moment, called "inferior conjunction," the sliver will almost completely disappear--so catch it now!