With the long winter nights, Christmas in the air and children bringing home stories of the star of Bethlehem, people are more inclined to stop and take notice of the sky. The winter night sky is full of bright stars and the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, is to be found in the east late these evenings, rising earlier and earlier as the winter progresses.
But the sight that is most striking, is to be found in the southwest after sunset. A dazzling “star” that it’s easily the brightest object in the night sky after the moon. It climbs slightly higher each evening, until mid January when it starts to move back towards the setting sun, eventually lost in its glare only to reemerge some weeks later in the morning sky. This “star” is in fact the planet Venus, our celestial neighbour and second closest planet to the sun after
Mercury. It is known as the morning star or evening star, due to it being found shortly after sunset in the evening sky, or shortly before sunrise in the morning sky.
Venus is a hot, rocky world where average temperatures are 425 degrees Celsius, and a runaway greenhouse effect has taken hold. The year is 225 earth days long and on Venus a day lasts 243 earth days! Look at it through a small telescope and it is easy to track as it goes through phases like the moon. At the moment it is almost three quarters full.
But back to the star of Bethlehem. Could it have been Venus? Some think it was a comet or a supernova, whilst others think it could have been a number of bright planets lining up alongside each other in the night sky. Whatever it was, the bright object in the sky, glittering and twinkling in the southwest after sunset, spreading Christmas magic is most definitely the planet Venus.