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Depending on where you live, you can see millions of stars twinkling away when you look up at the sky in the early morning. At certain times of the year, one star appears much larger and brighter than the others. It shines more brilliantly and is impressive (and relatively easy) to see. Some stargazers wake up early just to see the gorgeous star, dubbed the “Morning Star,” shine.
However, this bright “morning star” isn’t a star at all but the closest planet in our solar system to Earth, Venus. There’s more to this starry story, including why Venus shines so bright, the origins of its “morning star” nickname, and other planets that can also be morning stars. Read on to discover all these fascinating facts and increase your knowledge of the solar system.
For most people, anything that shines in the night sky is a “star” (including the occasional satellite). However, if you see a very bright star that has a silvery glow and doesn’t appear to “twinkle,” you’re probably looking at Venus.
Venus is a big planet between the Earth and the sun, making it easy to see without any stargazing equipment. For eons, humans believed that Venus was a star because, like stars, it shines in the night sky.
However, that shine isn’t light that Venus produces but is the reflection of sunlight off the planet’s surface. The best time of day to see Venus in many parts of the world is in the morning: thus, the nickname “morning star” was born.
Venus is called the “morning star” because it’s easy to see in the morning before the sun rises. However, depending on where you are and the time of year, sometimes it’s easier to see Venus in the early to mid-evening. Venus has often been called the “evening star” over the last few centuries.
Venus can sometimes be seen better in the morning and other times in the evening because it’s a “wandering star,” a term given to the planets in our solar system. That’s because they seem to “wander” while real stars seem to be fixed in place
Venus has also been called the “Shephard’s Star,” as early humans thought Venus was the star that shone a light down on shepherds as they made their way to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.
Being the closest planet in our solar system to Earth gives Venus a definite edge when observing it easily in the early morning sky. However, if you’re lucky and the conditions are right, five other “morning stars” can be seen at various times of the year. They include Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and, if you’re very lucky, Uranus.
None of the other 5 stars comes close to the brightness of Venus. Occasionally, Jupiter will put up a good challenge to the champ, and Mars has been known to shine brightly on rare occasions. Still, Venus is the standout and the planet most closely connected with the nickname “morning star.”
Although it’s famously known as the Morning Star, Venus has also been called the Evening Star for centuries. Venus reflects the most light from the sun, and it’s also the first planet to be seen when the sun starts going down and the last to disappear when it rises.
For these simple reasons, Venus has been called both the morning and evening star. When Venus is at its brightest point during the year, you can see it immediately after the sun sets and before the darkness of night sets in fully.
You might wonder why Venus, the 6th largest planet in our solar system, shines brighter than all of the other, much bigger planets. The reason is that Venus is an “inferior” planet closer to the sun than Earth. The other, larger planets, including Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, are much bigger but are “superior” planets and further from the sun. Also, although Mercury is also an inferior planet, it’s much smaller than Venus.
This proximity to the sun and being closer to Earth means that the sun’s rays reflect off the planet’s surface very brightly. The reason why Venus is more visible in the evening is when it trails the sun (which is when it’s called the “evening star”). Venus is brighter in the morning when it leads the sun and rises in the Earth’s sky a few hours before the sun does.
As the sun gets higher in the sky, Venus is still there but not bright enough to remain visible. Due to this difference in position and varying brightness, the ancient Egyptians and Greeks thought Venus was two separate stars.
We mentioned earlier that Venus is a “wandering star,” which means that, to humans, it seems to wander around the night sky randomly. However, like the rest of the planets in our solar system (including Earth), Venus has a specific orbit that changes slightly every year.
For that reason, the relation of Venus to the Sun is constantly changing, and the times of the year when it is the brightest change also. One year, for example, it might be the brightest Morning Star in February, while in another, it might be brightest in July or August. In 2022, for example, Venus was brightest in early February and again in early May when it appeared within a half degree of Jupiter.
For centuries, humankind has been looking up at the stars and seeing Venus shine brighter than all the rest. Of course, today, we know that Venus isn’t a star at all but a planet. Nevertheless, before this discovery, this bright “star” meant different things to different cultures and came to symbolize many human events and emotions.
For example, because it was mostly seen in the morning when the earth was peaceful and quiet, Venus the Morning Star came to represent harmony and hope to Native Americans. They also considered Venus a symbol of their elders who guided them forward: a link between the living and the dead.
The Morning Star also came to be viewed as a symbol of fertility, especially since Venus is the goddess of femininity, fertility, and love. Ancient people believed that if a woman saw the morning star at the right time, it would help her become pregnant. Lastly, the morning star is also seen by some cultures as a sign of redemption and new beginnings because it’s most easily spotted in the wee hours of the morning.
Although this has nothing to do with stars or the night sky, during Medieval times, there was a devastating and widely used weapon known as the “morning star.” Typically, a morning star consisted of a club to which a chain or rope was attached.
On the other end of the rope or chain was a heavy metal ball with spikes, usually made of steel. Warriors could inflict serious damage on their enemies by using the club to swing the spiked ball.
The Morning Star isn’t a star but is the planet closest to the Earth, Venus. Because it’s so close to us and also an inferior planet closer to the sun than Earth, Venus shines more brightly than any other planet in our sky. It shines in the morning, at least to our eyes, and was given the nickname “Morning Star” millennia ago, before humans realized it was a planet. We hope you thoroughly enjoyed our article about Earth’s brightest neighbor.
Featured Image Credit: Whitelion61, Shutterstock
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Greg Iacono is a self-taught writer and former chiropractor who, ironically, retired early due to back problems. He now spends his time writing scintillating content on a wide variety of subjects. Greg is also a well-known video script writer known for his ability to take a complex subject and make it accessible for the layperson.
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