As Venus approaches inferior conjunction, there has been some discussion lately on the Amastro yahoo group about viewing the growing crescent without optical aid. I had read about the possibility of doing this long ago, but never tried it. I have what I consider to be pretty hefty naked-eye astigmatism after dark and see horrible flaring around bright stars and planets. So trying to see the crescent after the sky has darkened too much is like trying to make out a whispered conversation in the middle of a rock concert. So, yesterday I tried to view the crescent a few minutes after sundown while the sky was still very bright. I didn't have to contend with flaring, and right away I seemed to pick up an elongation to the planet, and in about the right direction too. I was excited at the thought of actually seeing a weak crescent, but I toned my stokedness down a bit to do some experimenting. I began to tilt my head horizontally to the left and to the right to see if the elongation rotated with my head. And you know what? It did :( So there it was. Astigmatism.
I played around with covering one eye after the other, and got slightly different angles with each. I did that thing where you blink your eyes to smooth out the goo, and got an improvement in the 2-pointed-star situation. I grabbed some binoculars and easily made out the crescent at 10X. A passing plane gave me an opportunity to compare the size of Venus to some brightly reflecting features on the plane. Venus was about the same angular diameter as one of the reflecting wing engines. Without the binoculars, a slight irregularity did appear on that side of the plane, so I think I could theoretically just make out the horns of the planet, but my eyes just enjoy throwing spikes on bright things, so I'm probably out of luck.
I'll be trying again over the next few days just to be sure. I also plan on seeing the optomotrist in the next couple months, explaining my desire for better, precise vision at night and in dim light and see if they'll prescribe me a stronger diopter for just such occasions. (I don't need glasses otherwise.) I'll be curious to see if this helps me make better naked eye limiting magnitude estimates and just overall improves my naked-eye appreciation of the night sky.
Apologies for laxness in recent postings. I've been working very heavily on a couple projects recently (one of them astronomy-related), and it's taking a toll on my routine here.