What is that brilliant white “star” that shines in the southwest after sunset?

You see a bright white “star” in the evening sky after sunset and wonder what it is – and why it’s there.

It is Venus, the brightest object in the night sky after the sun and moon.

Earth’s hotter sister planet has gradually risen from deep in the southwest into where it currently is in the night sky at Christmas. It’s on the verge of being obvious to anyone looking southwest after dark, but only for a couple of hours or so, after which it sinks below the horizon.

It’s a foretaste of things to come as 2023 is dominated by a brightening Venus.

Venus has an eight-year cycle in which it orbits the Sun 13 times, with periods dominating Earth’s night sky after sunset as the brilliant “evening star” and periods as the “morning star.”

In 2023, the second planet will rise higher from the sun in the sky after sunset, and will get brighter through June 4, when it will be furthest from the sun — at least from our perspective on Earth.

Before that, Venus will “stare” as the brightest object, alongside some exquisite sights that no sky-gazer should miss. Here’s when you can see the planet at its most brilliant:

  • February 21-23, 2023: Jupiter, Venus and a narrow crescent moon align. After sunset, face southwest.
  • March 1, 2023: Jupiter and Venus appear just 0º.32 feet apart — the width of an outstretched finger raised toward the sky. Best advice is to check every night from late February until around March 4th.
  • April 10, 2023: Venus near the Pleiades.
  • May 21, 2023: Venus near the two brightest stars in Gemini, Castor and Pollux.
  • June 4, 2023: Venus at its “greatest eastward elongation” – it will appear highest above the horizon in the evening sky.
  • July 7, 2023: Venus at its “greatest brilliance” – the brightest it’s ever had, despite being a crescent now – although it’s now much lower on the horizon.

After a stunning performance in late winter, spring and early summer, Venus will quickly fade and sink below the horizon, only to emerge as the pre-dawn ‘Morning Star’ for an equally spectacular but lesser-noticed appearance.

Venus may be Earth’s twin planet, but aside from the fact that both are terrestrial planets dotted with volcanoes and craters of almost identical density, there are some major differences:

  • The surface of Venus can reach 465°C and has a thick carbon dioxide atmosphere. It is hotter than Mercury even though it is not as close to the Sun.
  • Venus takes 243 Earth days to rotate but only 225 Earth days to orbit the Sun. So a day on Venus is a little longer than a year!
  • All planets in our solar system rotate counterclockwise except Venus.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *