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Evening Star

Star light, star bright, the first star I see tonight... What is this legendary star? Is it even a star at all?

evening star and moon above a mountain range at sunrise

Photo: Barry Malone

The best time to see a planet in the general direction of the sun, with just your eyes, is an hour or two before sunrise and after sunset.

Have you ever watched a sunset and noticed a bright shining start on the horizon?

A bright star-like object that you see within about three hours of sunset or sunrise, in the general direction of the sun, is most likely going to be Venus.

However, planets can’t be seen just anywhere. They all fall within an eighteen-degree band of sky called the zodiac, and Venus will only be seen in the general direction of the sun.

Why?

Want a hint? Mercury, Venus, Earth.

Those are the first three planets. Venus is inside the Earth’s orbit,  and closer to the sun than we are, so if you’re looking at Venus you must be looking toward the sun. The best time to see a planet in the general direction of the sun, with just your eyes, is an hour or two before sunrise and after sunset. Between sunrise and sunset, the light from the sun blocks everything out. If you look at the sky in the middle of the night, you’re looking away from the sun. That’s why the sky is dark.

In the middle of the night you may see some outer planets like Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, but not the inner planets. That’s why Venus is called “the evening star.”

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