If you venture outside around dusk this fall and look due west, you could be in for the sight of your life.
You’re likely see a very bright light close to the horizon just after sunset. It’s for this reason that sightings of UFOs will surely peak between over the next few months.
However, before you start to panic, know that the bright light is nothing more than a close planet coming back into view after a while behind the Sun.
It is, of course, super-bright planet Venus and–for a limited time only–it can be seen with the hardest-to-see tiny planet Mercury.
Who believes in UFOs?
A Gallup poll earlier this month showed that one-third of Americans think some UFOs are actual sightings of alien spacecraft–and that two-thirds in the U.S. think the government knows more than it’s saying on UFOs. Exactly 33% of Americans believe alien spacecraft have visited Earth at some point, 60% say that all UFO sightings can be explained by human activity or natural phenomenon, and a whopping 16% of U.S. adults think they’ve seen an UFO.
It was probably Venus.
Why is Venus now becoming visible again?
Venus has been hidden for a while observable only before dawn for much of 2019, and until recently lost in sunlight. It reached what astronomers call “superior conjunction” (when it appears to go behind the Sun from our point of view on Earth) back in mid-August, but it’s only now beginning to move away from the glare of the setting Sun. The same goes for Mercury, which was hidden by the Sun’s glare completely during its superior conjunction on September 4.
Venus is rising
Venus is currently paired with Mercury just after sunset, though a challenging observation to make. As we approach the fall equinox on September 23, Venus will climb ever higher in the night sky after sunset, and Mercury lower after mid-October. Mercury will then transit the Sun on November 11 during its own “inferior conjunction” and subsequent transition to the morning sky, while Venus will appear to almost “kiss” Jupiter on November 24. That’s sure to be a pretty sight.
Venus and UFO sightings
The planet Venus often gets mistaken for an alien spaceship. Why? Firstly, it’s invisible for months on end, then suddenly pops back into the night sky. Its successive appearances in the evening sky happen 19 months apart. Secondly, it’s just so bright–the second brightest object in the night sky after the moon–and thirdly, Venus never gets too far from the Sun as seen from Earth, so it’s always hanging relatively low in the sky. Basically, Venus gets into people’s line of sight. Since it’s low in the sky, it’s often seen by drivers just after sunset, either right in front of them or in their rear-view mirror. Venus never gets lower in the sky than just before or after its superior conjunction–that’s now–and it will remain so for many months.
‘Morning Star’ vs ‘Evening Star’
So bright is this inner planet to us on Earth that Venus often called either the “Morning Star”or the “Evening Star”. A morning object for much of 2019, Venus is now an early evening sight. Venus is bright because it’s very close to the Sun. On average it’s 108 million km from our star, the second closest planet to our Sun after Mercury, which is 58 million km from the Sun (Earth is 150 million km from the Sun). It’s also bright because it’s cloudy, and those clouds reflect the sun’s light.
‘Superior’ vs ‘inferior’ conjunction
While “superior conjunction” refers to when Venus appears to go behind the Sun from our point of view on Earth, “inferior conjunction” is when it passes in front of the Sun. That will next happen on June 3, 2020, though it merely refers to when Venus gets lost in the Sun’s glare. It won’t appear to transit the Sun’s disk again until December 10, 2117.
Venus & Jupiter’s ‘kiss’
On November 24 there will be a beautiful “conjunction”–close pairing–of the planets Venus and Jupiter in the post—sunset night sky. Venus will have moved away from the Sun sufficiently for it to sit just 1.4 degrees from Jupiter in the western sky just after sunset.
There’s always something in the night sky that could look like a UFO to some eyes, but as always with astronomy, the truth is always way more interesting.