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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

That bright light is Venus

Posted on January 18 2009 at 4:11:01 0 comments

The Moon and Venus

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

For the last couple of months, my inbox has been inundated, with everyone asking the same question. “What is that bright light we can see in the sky, in the early evening?”

Well, the answer is it’s probably the planet Venus. It is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon. But how can you be sure it is Venus you are looking at? It will be in the southwest, very close to where the Sun sets and it will visible long before any stars can be seen, while it is still twilight.

During February, it will be at its brightest and will be visible through the whole month, finally overtaking the Earth “on the inside” and disappearing in front of the Sun in early March. On the evening of the 27th and 28th, a very thin crescent moon will be very close to the planet and will make a very beautiful sight in the early twilight. You’ll have to be quick though, it will be too low to see by about 8pm.

Now, Venus and the sunset are in the southwest, turning slightly left to face south and at about 8pm, you will be looking at the wonderful constellation of Orion, The Hunter. The three stars of his belt are most noticeable and hanging down from his belt are the three stars of his sword.

The middle star sits in the beautiful Orion nebula, a cloud of gas where stars are being formed, just visible with the naked eye.

Top left in the main part of Orion is an unmistakeable, very red star called Betelgeuse. This is a colossal star, so big that if you placed it in the centre of our solar system it would engulf all the planets out as far as Saturn.

Off to the right, out past Orion’s shield, slightly higher than Betelgeuse, is another red star, Aldebaran, sitting in the vee of Taurus the Bull, with his two horns extending upwards. This is another red giant, 200 times as big as our sun and really looking like the eye of Taurus, looking down at us.

A similar distance, right again, is a little cluster of very hot, blue stars called Pleiades or Seven Sisters.

Another beautiful sight in our winter sky; you need a very dark, clear sky and good eyesight to see seven or more stars but it’s well worth a look. And just think, it’s taken the light from those stars more than 400 years to reach you!

Pictured: Catch this view of the Moon over Venus on February 28 - but make sure you do it before 8pm.

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