If you’re an early riser like me, a quick glance at the pre-dawn eastern sky reveals a bright naked-eye object – the “morning star”. But look closely and you’ll notice that the object doesn’t twinkle, indicating it’s not a star but a planet! The planet is Venus, named by the ancients in honor of the Goddess of Beauty.
Venus is our morning “star” for a few months out of the year. Since it’s relatively close to Earth, it appears to move quickly in our skies, and day-to-day observations reveal the planet in a slightly different position each day. Over the weeks, Venus will move lower and lower in the morning sky and eventually it will disappear altogether. Then, after a few months absence, it will reappear in the evening sky around May of next year – becoming our evening “star” and shining brightly in the west after sunset. The Earth rotates in a west to east direction, which is why the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and Venus is the next planet closer to the sun, so from our vantage point here on Earth, it always appears close to the sun. So, when Venus is on the east side of the earth, it rises before the Sun and is our morning star. When its orbit is west of the Earth, it becomes our evening star. It is not visible during the day due to the brilliance of the Sun. Since Venus lies between us and the sun it also shows phases, from new to full, just like our Moon.
Venus is much closer to the Sun than we are, yet is typically termed our non-identical twin since the planets are similar in size and mass, but those are the only similarities. Venus takes only 224.7 days to orbit the Sun as opposed to the 365 (actually 365.2!) days it takes Earth. Planet Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun, while Venus is only 67 million miles. Those two differences are enough to cause Venus to be a veritable inferno, with a scorching hot surface hot enough to melt lead and a thick choking atmosphere, inhospitable to life. Apart from the Sun and Moon, Venus is much brighter than any other object in the sky, but keep in mind that the planets of our solar system have no light of their own. They shine by reflecting the rays of the Sun.
A word of caution when observing Venus: It is important to remember that Venus always lies close to the Sun in our sky, which creates a danger inherent in observing this object.
Never look directly at the sun – even with the naked eye. Even a brief glimpse of the sun through a telescope or binoculars will result in permanent eye damage or blindness! Only experienced observers should attempt observations with a telescope or binoculars – extreme caution is required!!
The safest way to observe Venus is while the sun is below the horizon – before sunrise in the morning and in the evening, after sunset. At its highest point, it is still well placed in the sky, and easily observable with the sun below the horizon.
So, keep safety as a priority here, and enjoy our beautiful sister planet!
Until next time… Clear Skies!