Look to the west at dusk this evening and give Venus a goodbye kiss. If you haven’t noticed already, Venus has been practically MIA these recent weeks as it tracks back toward the sun at dusk. For now, the planet stands only about 4° high 30 minutes after sunset from my northern location. To spot it, observers in the northern U.S. and Canada have to find a wide open horizon and be on time — it’s only visible for a half-hour or so beginning shortly after sunset.
Happily, the further south you live, the higher the planet stands and the longer it will be in view. So what gives? Conjunction with the sun doesn’t occur until October 25, so why is the planet so low right now even though today it’s 42° from the sun — just a few degrees shy of it greatest apparent distance? It has to do with the angle the ecliptic, the path followed by the moon, sun and planets around the sky.