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Venus has its brightest night of the year

Brad Goldpaint

Astrophotographer Brad Goldpaint framed Venus and the moon in a natural arch in Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park on Thursday evening. For more about Goldpaint and his work, check out the Goldpaint Photography website and Facebook page.

Venus is a dazzler in western skies after sunset — and this weekend, the planet is about as bright as it can get.

Venus is an unusually bright evening star this month because it's swinging toward Earth in its orbit: That means its apparent size is increasing, and it's still at an angle that reflects a healthy fraction of the sun's rays. EarthSky's Bruce McClure lays out the geometry behind Venus' greatest illuminated extent. Don't wait too long: Every night, Venus will be lower in the sky when the sun sets, and by January it'll be lost in the sun's glare.

Astrophotographer Brad Goldpaint took advantage of Thursday's Venus-moon conjunction to snap a lovely picture of the celestial lights, framed by a natural arch in Nevada's Valley of Fire. Despite the chilly evening temperatures, "it was an amazing experience to witness in clear skies," he said. If you look closely, you might be able to spot the glow of Las Vegas' Luxor Hotel and Casino rising up from the horizon within the arch, Goldpaint said.

Like Venus, Goldpaint is going through some major changes: He has downsized his possessions and taken to the road in an RV to document the night sky and present a series of photo workshops in alluring Western locales such as California's Joshua Tree National Park, Utah's Arches National Park, Crater Lake in Oregon and Glacier in Montana.

"We're doing this to reconnect people with the beauty of the night, and show people how to photograph it like I do," Goldpaint said. To trace Goldpaint's travels, check out his website and Facebook page.

More about the night sky:

Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the NBC News Science Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with NBCNews.com's stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.