planets on display
Venus is a beautiful ‘Morning Star’, while Saturn and Mars wind down
Venus is now shining brightly in the east before sunrise as a ‘Morning Star’, far, far brighter than any of the many stars around it. At the start of our observing period the second planet from the Sun rises at 6am, and by early December is rising at 4am, long before the Sun. Each morning through November and into December it will be a little higher, a little brighter and a little easier to see, very obvious to the naked eye as a bright silverywhite ‘star’.
Our best views of Venus for this period will come in early December when it will be so bright that not even the light pollution blighting your town or city’s sky will prevent you from seeing it; your naked eye will pick it out very easily, and the view through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope will be beautiful, too.
In early December Venus will have company in the sky. Before dawn on 3 December a thin waning crescent Moon will shine just eight degrees to the planet’s upper right. The following morning the Moon will have moved on and will be a very thin crescent shining to the lower left of Venus. You should try to look at this gathering through a pair of binoculars to ensure you appreciate the contrasting colours of the Moon and Venus, and their different brightnesses too. On either of those mornings you might also see the dark part of the Moon’s face glowing with the soft purple-pink glow of Earthshine.
Although it doesn’t actually rain great plopping drops of skin-scorching acid on Venus, as some would have you believe, it does have clouds of highly corrosive sulphuric acid in its atmosphere. However, the temperature down on its surface would be equally as lethal to anyone who went there without adequate thermal protection: daytime temperatures on Venus can reach 470 degrees
Celsius (878 degrees Fahrenheit).
With all that in mind it’s unlikely that astronauts will visit Venus any time soon, but when they eventually do make the long journey from Earth the first team to land on Venus will be inside a spacecraft constructed with a thick, protective hull made out of special materials resistant to the planet’s crushing pressures, lethal heat and poisonous air – something more like a diving bell than a lunar lander. That won’t be for many years though, so you should get out there on these chilly, clear mornings and enjoy the sight of Venus blazing in the sky as a beautiful Morning Star.