The first star I see tonight...
Might be a planet!
Often the first star that you see at night is not a star at all, it could actually be one of our neighboring planets. That is because they are much closer to us and they brilliantly reflect the light of our Sun.
However they move around in relationship to the stars because each planet has its own speed, distance from the Sun and orbit. This will put them in different places in the sky over the course of time.
The inner planets
Mercury and Venus are only visible in the early morning pre-dawn or late evening dusk hours since they are between us and the Sun.
Mercury is the most difficult to see because it is sooooo close to the Sun and quite small, almost a third the size of Earth. You need to look very carefully for Mercury just as the Sun is rising or setting.
Venus is much easier since it is closer to us and almost as big as the Earth. It can be brightest of all of the stars in the sky when it is the perfect position.
The outer planets visible to the naked eye
Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are visible when they are on the same side of the Sun as we are. The time of night depends where they are in relation to us. When the Sun, the Earth and an outer planet line up, the planet is visible all night long!
Mars is just about half the size of Earth and it is distinguishable by the slight orange cast from the “Red Planet”.
Jupiter is huge! It is 11 times larger than the Earth and almost 5 times further from the Sun than we are. With binoculars you can even see some of its moons. If you do that, you’ll have something in common with Galileo! He was one of the first to see Jupiter’s moons when he invented the telescope in 1609.
Saturn is 9 times larger than the Earth and almost twice as far from the Sun as Jupiter. With binoculars you can get a hint of it being oval due to its rings. With a telescope, you can see the rings.
Click the button below to see what planets you can see tonight, where they will be and when they will be there. Then go planet hunting!