Venus and Sirius – 2 Bright Stars in the Evening Sky

[Editor's note: I notice that lots of people are still finding this now a few years old post. If you are trying to find out what those bright stars in the eastern evening sky (Sirius and Jupiter) and eastern Morning sky (Venus) are (Jan/Feb 2014), go to the front page of this blog at transientsky.wordpress.com for the latest posts.]

First a meteor update: The weather continues to be bad for meteor observing in both Tucson and San Diego. Though my camera has been able to pick up a meteor or two per night between the clouds, daily updates don’t make for very exciting reading.

There have been quite a few comments on this site regarding one or two bright stars that are visible every night in the evening. The two stars in question are Venus and Sirius.

By far the brightest “star” in the sky during the evening hours is Venus. Though to the eye it looks like a star, Venus is actually the 2nd planet from the Sun. For the next few weeks Venus is at its brightest and highest in the sky. This combination makes it the most obvious object in the sky after the Sun and Moon.

Venus appear as a brilliant yellow star many times brighter than any other star in the sky. It is ~18 times brighter than the brightest star Sirius (located in the southeast) and ~75 times brighter than Capella (the bright star located nearly over head in the evening). It is so bright in fact, that it can be fairly easy to see in broad daylight if one knows exactly where to look. Located 40 degrees above the southwest horizon at sunset, it sets below the horizon around 9 pm.

Why is Venus so bright? It is due to a combination of factors. Venus is covered in a permanent shroud of highly reflective clouds. These clouds reflect ~65% of the sunlight that hits it. For comparison, the Earth reflects ~35% and Mars and the Moon around 13-15% of the sunlight striking them. Venus is also rather large, being only a bit smaller than the Earth (its radius is ~95% as large as Earth‘s). The final piece of Venus‘ brightness puzzle is its close distance to Earth. Right now Venus is 0.494 AU (~46 million miles) from Earth. By comparison Saturn, the other bright planet visible in the sky, is 8.50 AU (~790 million miles away). Only Mars can get as close though it can never get as bright because it is smaller and less reflective than Venus.

Through a telescope or pair of good binoculars Venus appears like a miniature crescent Moon (see the image below). Over the next month and a half, Venus will appear larger and larger. It’s crescent shape will also become more narrow. If I can get my telescope and camera system to work properly, I will try to post some Venus images over the next few weeks.

wspace

Predicted telescopic view of Venus for February 10, 2009. Image from the NASA JPL Solar System Simulator. (http://space.jpl.nasa.gov/)

The 2nd bright “star” in the evening sky is Sirius. Sirius is the brightest star visible in the night sky with only Venus, Jupiter, and sometimes Mars being brighter. By the time it gets dark, Sirius is visible low in the southeast. It is visible for most of the night in the southern sky.

Sirius is a blue star but can appear to change color rapidly. The reason for this is due to the Earth‘s atmosphere. Turbulence in the atmosphere causes the star’s light to be “bounced” all over the place. The light of the star is made up of many different colors which all “bounce” around differently. As a result, normally blue Sirius can appear to rapidly switch between many different colors when it is close to the horizon (meaning its light is passing through more atmosphere than usual). All stars experience this effect, it is just that Sirius‘ brightness makes it more evident. Watching Sirius when low in the sky with a telescope or just your eyes can be one of the best sights in the night sky.

Why does Sirius twinkle and change colors while much brighter Venus does not? Check out Phil Plait’s explanation on his Bad Astronomy site.

More on Sirius can be found here.

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About Carl Hergenrother
I am a professional astronomer specializing in the study of comets, asteroids and meteors. This blog will focus on my professional and amateur work in this field

40 Responses to Venus and Sirius – 2 Bright Stars in the Evening Sky

  1. patti says:

    Thanks for the info.
    My son and I have been watching venus for several nights now, but didn’t know what it was. The first night we actually thought it was an aircraft!
    I know nothing about astronomy, but find it fascinating.
    Nice to know what we are finally looking at.
    Newfoundland Canada

  2. Aquaria says:

    Venus has been showing off a lot since November. The Venus-Jupiter conjunction flanked by a crescent moon at the end of November had normally astronomy-blase people looking up at the sky. I’ve noticed how much brighter it’s gotten since then. At this point, only the incurious or the blind can’t see it on a clear evening.

    I’m really looking forward to the 19th. If it’s this bright now, imagine what it will be like then!

  3. Ian says:

    help! i have a question:
    i am a complete novice at astronomy, only having just begun to explore the sky with a telescope.
    i was observing Venus last night (Feb. 12, 2009 from Germany) between 8pm and 9pm. Venus appeared whole (the information i can find says Venus should appear as a crescent now).
    then, slowly, Venus was being eclipsed (or an occultation?) until the encroaching shadow caused Venus to appear as a crescent, about half-obscured and then the encroaching shadow receded in the same direction it came in until Venus appeared whole again.
    this all took place within an hour.
    i can’t find anything on the astronomy sites to support that this should have happened, or that i should see Venus this way….
    can anyone explain what i saw?

  4. Mrs. Z says:

    Thank you for the info on Sirius. I am a grade 6 teacher in Alberta and we are doing a unit on Sky Science. One of my students saw a blue star in the sky last night and asked me to google it. I found your excellent answer. Thank you,

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi Mrs. Z,

      I’m glad you and your class found my site so informative.

      Don’t hesitate to send any further questions from your class.

      – Carl

  5. David Smith says:

    Thanks, Carl, for that really helpful information. Walking tonight in Riyadh and Just wanted to know the ID of that bright object in the western sky – beautifully positioned above a small crescent moon.

    All the best.

  6. general em says:

    Where is nibiru?

    • Anne Haqqani says:

      They have said That Planet X aka Nubiru is a eliptical orbit almost like a oval stretched too far, everyone is saying its going to be on the date of December 21, 2012. I want to see what is going to happen on that date.

  7. lisa says:

    Hi, I am also new in astrology. For a few days I see this bright star. I am living in Johannesburg , South Africa. I thought it was a planet but the strange thing is that it doesn’t show up until 5am – 6 am. Before that it is nowhere to be seen. It also moved from his former place. Can anybody explain me how this can be?

  8. ken says:

    Hi, Last nite at 10pm CST in iowa was a bright star? to the lower left of the moon, it continued to rise til about 11pm or so it was to the left of the moon. I would like to know what star or planet this is. thank you

  9. lisa says:

    I looked some up on internet and I learned that it is the planet Venus I am seeing as a morningstar.

  10. JM THERRIEN says:

    I AM JUST FRONT THE SEA ( Cape May) AND A SEE A BRIGHTED STAR. IS IT VENUS?

  11. Dave LaFontaine says:

    My name is Dave
    I live up in northern Ontario Canada. Last night Sept. 9th /09 I went out for a smoke, with my wife ,and looked up at the stars to the south.

    All of a sudden a star or something came from left to right and stopped. Then the sra or what ever it passed took off to the left and dissapeared . This was really weared, so I just checked to see if the one star is still there, and it is.

    Dont know nothing about this stuff but that I have never seen befor.

    Did anybody else see it ?

    Thanks
    Dave

  12. Robert says:

    hi my name is Robert and im just wondering what will be the best Telescope to buy? Im looking at a Celestron NexStar 5SE Telescope 11036 – 5″ Computerized Schmidt-Cassegrain is there one thats better or what do u recommend i want one of the best one that i can get i want the best picture and stability…. thank you for your time….

  13. domlanic says:

    Plymouth, UK; 7.30 pm late September, driving east. See v. bright ‘star’ off to the right (south of east?), always told it was Venus but my friend states absolutely it is Sirius- it glitters, changes colour rapidly & is far brighter than anything else except Moon. Can anyone authoritatively confirm which it is?

    Would Venus not be visible because as my friend says ‘it is too close to the Sun’, which has just set behind us to our right?

  14. domlanic says:

    oops! forgot where I was- please forgive the error…

    domlanic

  15. cjs says:

    I live in North Dakota, USA. During the summer I have been watching a very bright star. It started low to the horizon, to the south east. It is now pretty much straight to the south of us, maybe a little south west.
    It is definatly the brightest star in the sky.
    My granddaughter and I are very curious as to what it is.
    Can anyone give me any information.

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi CJS,

      The “star” you’ve been observing is the planet Jupiter. It is easily the brightest “star” in the evening sky. If you have a pair of binoculars, even small ones, you’ll be able to resolve the disk of Jupiter and even see up to 4 of its brightest moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto).

      Regards,
      – Carl

  16. cjs says:

    Thanks for the answer to our question Carl. We are really excited to here that it is Jupiter that we have been watching. I do have binoculars, and we plan on getting out and looking closer the next clear night.
    My granddaughter, 8 years old, is very interested in star gazing, and I am trying to learn a little myself so that I can help her recognize what we are looking at. Do you recommend any websites that I could check out that will help beginners like us?
    Thanks again.

  17. Deana says:

    I am a nurse in Birmingham, Alabama and drive to work at pre-dawn hours. There is a brilliant star situated about 45 degrees or so from the horizon in the East that lingers just above the rising sun…is this Sirius or Venus? It is absolutely beautiful….

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi Deana,

      Both Venus and Sirius are visible in the morning right before sunrise. Sirius should be about 45 degrees up in the south to southeast. Venus should be about 15-20 degrees up towards the due east. Venus is by far the brightest “star” in the morning sky. If the object you saw is just above where the sun is rising in the east then it is Venus. BTW, Saturn is the bright star (though no where near as bright as Venus) just above Venus.

      Thanks for writing,
      – Carl

  18. Hi;

    Here in Oregon last Friday (Oct 16), we watched stars — a small group of about a half dozen — in the northern half, close to the horizon, grow brighter for a few moments then return to normal visibility, and do so repeatedly (about 9 PM, Pacific). Despite it being a very clear night way out in the rural part of the state with no city light (nearest town is La Grande), we thought it might be a cloud but no clouds were doing this to any other stars elsewhere in the sky. You ever see anything like that? Can stars pulse before the naked eye?

    SMITH, Jeffery J.
    President, Forum on Geonomics
    jjs@geonomics.org; http://www.progress.org
    Land Rights course: http://www.course.earthrights.net
    Share Earth’s worth to prosper and conserve.

  19. diane baker says:

    thank you we also have seen the star and did not know what it was . but why now has people just started seeing it? diane baker mcewen tennessee

  20. Gerry lisk says:

    I have been watching a star on several occasionsand tonight it is particularly bright,the location is in the South western sky from my home in Pierrefonds Quebec Canada. This star is very bright and twinkles which rules out Venus
    Can you enlighten me?

    • dmh says:

      that is definetly Venus

    • Jenny says:

      Whether a star or planet twinkles or not isn’t really relavent to what planet or star it is. Turbulence of air in the atmosphere bends light in constantly shifting patterns. This turbulence causes that familiar “twinkling” we see in the stars.

  21. dawn says:

    This was so helpful!!!!I needed to find the answer fast.after reading this I knew exactly here to look!!!!!!!!This website is so helpful!!!!!

  22. heather says:

    March 5, 2010
    NORTH CAROLINA ,Clemmons
    TIME FRAME 12:12-12:58
    boyfriend is out side and said he sees a big flashing light with green, red, purple, yellow. colors rotating object as low as a plane. i go look for it and its very very low i live in country and it was below the tree line (about one and half of a football feild away) then it got a little higher and brighter i watched it Field like 30 minutes, and then it slowly got smaller like it was going into space… now it just looks like a regular star

    ANYONE ELSE SE THIS??
    ANYONE KNOW OR HEARD ANYTHING ABOUT THIS?

    if you have any info on this
    email me at hstrickland46@yahoo.com

  23. kim says:

    hi i live in shropshire uk and every evning around 7-8pm theres a really bright star to the south of me it doesnt twinkle just realy bright is this venus or saturn thanx xx

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi Kim,

      The bright star to the south is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. But… it should be twinkling and might even appear to flare in different colors. It also is to the lower left of Orion (Orion’s belt stars point to it).

      Also there is very bright Venus low on the western horizon though it should only be visible for an hour or so after sunset.

      Thanks for posting,
      – Carl

  24. Susan says:

    Response to Heather in N.C., I’ve seen exactly what you and your husband have seen, and it’s driving me crazy. I go out every night to observe this phenomenon and to try and rule out anything that can be explained; and I cannot. I’ve watched it every night in the lower western sky, like you said, even lower than what an aircraft would fly, I’ve seen it dip down below the tree line and dart back up again, then move up/down, left/right while emitting various colors, but not those of aircraft or helicopters; it’s silent as well. I’m an Air Force veteran and have seen many fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft pull off some pretty amazing stunts, but I’ve never seen anything like this. And it’s there every night, it also does not descend below the horizon, nor does it follow the other constellation rotational track. I REALLY WANT TO KNOW WHAT IT IS/UNFORTUNATELY I DON’T HAVE A VIDEO CAM WITH A LONG ENOUGH ZOOM LENS TO GET THIS CAPTURED! IF ANY WOULD LIKE TO ADD ANY INFO PLEASE EITHER LEAVE ME A COMMENT OR EMAIL ME @ susanandkeith@dishmail.net. Thanks in advance!! sleepless susan in FL

    • It is a ufo and there are many of these occurences. Almost every night when gazing you will find star-like objects moving at tremendous speeds and some will slow down and even stop and change direction. Clearly they are not stars, they are ufo’s visiting us and some just passing by. Strange but true.

      Mankind has been witnessing such phenomena for centuries of which was recorded in ancient art. Even biblical, quranic, jewish & hindu text purport such accounts. Greek, Egyptian and many historical text express these visitations or sightings.

      There is so much to look into.

  25. sandy dorer says:

    Hi,
    I live in the west of Ireland and am also looking at the very bright “star” which is west from me and shines all night. Is this Venus?
    thanks, sandy

  26. Britiny says:

    Hello there! Last night (July 26th, 2010) around 12:30 am (mountain time) my bf and I went outside for a smoke. We noticed a fairly large flickering object in the sky to the north. It was changing colors rapidly but was not moving, just in one place. We started looking around and found another one, the same height in the sky from the horizon does the EXACT same thing. It freaked us out so we got the binoculars out and noticed the objects were turning colors of green, blue, red and yellow quiet rapidly, again they were not moving, so I know it wasnts a plane or satalite. I wanted to call someone but with the late hours on a sunday, we thought we would wait to see if they showed up the next day. A few hours later at 3:00 am my bf got up went outside to take a look and quickly came back in, woke me up and told me the objects were gone!! Please tell me what we saw, because people think we are nuts and watching too much X-Files. Thank you!
    Ps we were NOT drinking either! We saw what we saw

    • Bob says:

      Hello. I’ve seen this star as well. I am in Alabama. Last night, this star had a twin. Everytime I see this star, it changes colors but slowly moves away. With’n one hour, it is gone. Visit this web site……www.share-international.org It talks about this star we see. Glad I am not the only one who see’s. All my friends think I’ve been drinking. Take care and feel free to share any info you find out about this star with me. Thank you & have a good day.

      Bob :0)

      P.S. They say who ever see’s this star…it is a good thing!!

  27. Frendon says:

    I work 3rd shift. During the summertime, EVERY Night there is this brightest star that seems to Follow the Moon (behind to the s.east or ahead to the s.west) – but ALWAYS remains in a relative close proximity to the moon. As if they are on the same path of orbits… its Always the brightest. Always within trajectory of the moon. Is this Sirius to confirm?

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi Frendon,

      The star you’ve been watching near the Moon is the planet Jupiter. The Moon is now moving away from Jupiter but Jupiter should still appear in roughly the same part of the sky (though it is rising 4 minutes earlier every night).

      Thanks for writing,
      – Carl

  28. Hi, I have seen visions in the clouds and believe them to be from the Lord. In one vision a hand and arm are presenting the moon and a bright star or a planet just above, an inch if you hold your first to fingers apart to the sky. I am in Auckland, New Zealand and face 320 degrees from North to directly in front of me about NE where I saw the moon and the star r planet. The moon was in the sky all day from late morning. Which star or planet will I have seen? I am guessing Sirrius. I documented the visions I saw on Facebook in the my webpage link above.

    • Hi, I did not see the reply to the post by Frendon until I came back to look at this thread. I downloaded and use free StarCalc and found the Moon and Jupiter were in the approximate positions I saw the moon and the bright star. The star I saw was lke Frnedon described as the brightest star in the sky, or it seemed to be the brightest star in the sky. I will now use Jupiter as the bright star I saw on my Facebok webpage Notes. Thank you Carl, thanks Frendon.
      Nicholas

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