Venus watchers, our favorite planet is back in the night sky! What makes Venus special? She’s the nearest planet and neighbor, she’s the brightest of all the planets, and she’s our Evening Star. Did you know Venus is the second-brightest object in the entire night sky after the Moon? Discover 10 cool things about the Goddess of Love.
Venus, the Evening Star, is in her glory from June through August.
Where is Venus?
Venus is the dazzling apparition that now dominates the western sky, shining a hundred times more brightly than the brightest stars.
Look for a super-bright “star” west the first few hours after sunset. Look around twilight. Don’t wait until it’s too dark.
Venus was gone for about a year and will be higher up and brighter as spring unfolds.
But right now Venus is worth our attention because it’s in such a strange place. Interesting, Venus is actually to the right of due west—closer to northwest. An unusual place for a planet to be.That’s because the Evening Star is spending May and most of June in the most northerly part of the zodiac, in Taurus and Gemini. Moreover, instead of sitting smack in the middle of the zodiac, it’s following the zodiac’s northern edge, which happens because Venus’ orbit is tilted 3.4° from the exact flat pancake-like Earth-sun plane.
- Venus may be the sky’s very brightest “star,” but it’s actually at its personal worst right now. You’ll see it slowly brighten as 2018 grinds on. By September it will have twice the brilliance it has now. When the Evening Star reaches its maximum brightness, well, that’s when Venus lights up the west like a searchlight, the first hours after nightfall.
This Year’s UFO?
This makes people around the world go on a binge of misidentification. Venus alone accounts for more than half of all UFO reports. And they don’t all come from dimwits. My two favorite Venus stories:
- Jimmy Carter, while Governor of Georgia, phoned the state police to report a UFO that proved to be Venus.
- And a squadron of allied bombers returning from a mission over Japan in World War 2 saw a brilliant light that appeared to keep pace with them. Firing their guns, they attempted, without success, to blow up the Evening Star. At our Overlook Observatory phone and during public radio call-in shows, when someone begins a sentence with “I’ve been seeing a star….” I obnoxiously interrupt them with: “Venus!”
More Venus Fun Facts
- Venus’ creamy-white brilliance, from sunlight bouncing off shiny clouds of sulfuric acid, is oddly steady. She rarely twinkles.
- Yet, Venus is dazzling enough to cast shadows when seen from a dark place. Wait for the first half of September for this, when there will be no Moon to compete.
- Despite the beautiful name, Venus is the most unpleasant planet in the known universe. Its surface temperature never varies from 850 degrees, hotter than a wood stove. The air is 100% carbon dioxide, trapping in the sun’s heat like a blanket. That’s why Venus manages to have a hotter surface than even Mercury. This was the original ‘greenhouse effect’ model long before that phrase’s current popularity.
- And Venus’ air pressure remains stuck at 90 Earth-pressures, making it the most efficient pressure-cooker in this neck of the galaxy. A few seconds would do it for beef stew.
- Sometimes called our “sister planet” since its diameter and density are nearly the same as ours, all family resemblance ends right there. Goddess of love, sure. As the night’s brightest “star”, it’s appropriate that it be forever associated with love. But this is strictly a “look but don’t touch” affair.
- See more amazing facts about Venus, Planet of Paradox.
Also, have you discovered my new podcast, Astounding Universe? It’s a free and freewheeling exploration of the cosmos. Join me! Listen and subscribe here: Astounding Universe.