Lights in the Sky Tonight: What is that bright white ‘star’ in the sky? Whether you’re up for an early sunrise or you’ve been driving through the darkness in recent weeks, two very bright ‘stars’ are shining in the east. Could it be the North Star, Polaris? Probably not – it may be famous, but it’s only the 48th brightest star in the sky.
They’re certainly not stars but planets, and they’re some of the most famous planets.
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The Morning Sky: Lights in the Sky Tonight
That’s Venus, that shows as lights in the Sky Tonight. From January through September, the closest planet to Earth has dominated the post-sunset western sky as the “Evening Star,” shining brightly before getting lost in the glare of the setting Sun. Then, it did something quite different; during its splendid “Morning Star” phase, it appeared high in the dawn sky in the east before sunrise.
Venus, now shining intensely at -4.5 magnitude, will reach its “greatest elongation west” tomorrow. This means that in the morning sky, it will be seen at its greatest distance from the Sun — almost 46 degrees, so nearly halfway up the sky — making it easily visible to most people.
This fascinating celestial dance will persist for several months, and by the arrival of next spring, as the Sun’s position in the morning sky shifts, the star will once more make its appearance in the eastern sky shortly after the sun has set in the west. It’s a celestial show that keeps on giving!
Understanding Venus’s Orbit
As an inner planet of Earth, Venus cannot be seen anywhere in the sky during the night. From our perspective, it traces a circular path around the Sun, which it encircles 13 times and rises high in the eastern or western sky in the evening sky after the sunset before it’s hidden as it disappears back into the solar glare.
Venus, now at its greatest brightness, will appear in the evening sky for several weeks until it reaches “greatest elongation west.” Experts in astronomy describe this as the farthest it will be seen from the Sun — about 46 degrees, making it easily visible to most.
For the next few months, this view will continue to mesmorise us and as we approach the summer season, you’ll have the delightful opportunity to witness this star’s appearance in the evening sky shortly after the sun dips below the horizon. It’s a celestial treat that keeps on giving!
The Brightest Star: Lights in the Sky Tonight
This month, just a few hours after the sunset, step outside, and you’ll see a bright planet rising in the eastern sky. That’s Jupiter, which is shining intensely at -2.9 magnitude and is now in Leo.
Point any pair of binoculars toward Jupiter and you’ll see all four of its largest moons — unless one or more is directly in front or behind the planet.
Understanding Jupiter’s Orbit
Like an outer planet from Earth’s perspective, Jupiter moves very slowly around the Sun. In fact, Jupiter takes almost 12 Earth years to complete one orbit.
Therefore, it’s seen moving gradually through the night sky throughout the year. This is why the changing position of Jupiter, which determines when and where it can be seen, is the most significant factor in terms of its placement relative to the starry background.
Every Earth year, our planet comes between the Sun and Jupiter. During this period, known as “opposition,” the outer planet is at its largest, brightest, and best as seen from Earth — as it is now. This particular star graces the eastern sky when the sun sets and bids adieu in the western sky as the sun rises, making it a constant celestial companion throughout the night. It’s a stargazer’s delight!
It’s for this reason that Jupiter is currently so prominent and Lights in the Sky Tonight!
All you need is a clear sky and your eyes.