What is the bright star in west?
If you have gone outside and looked to the southwest as the sky begins to grow dark you’ve seen a bright ‘star’ and may have wondered what it was. It is not actually a ‘star’ it is the planet Venus. Venus is the brightest star-like object in our sky and is usually referred to as the morning or evening star.
Venus, in its smaller orbit, has been slowly catch up to the Earth over the past few months and as it grows closer it will also grow brighter in our sky. At the same time, as seen below, it appears to climb higher into the evening sky. Venus will reach its greatest separation from the setting Sun on Jan 12th. However, its curving motion over the top of the setting Sun will carry it farther away from the horizon on a nightly basis until early February.
At the same time our perspective of the planet is changing. In late December Venus will appear to reach a half phase as viewed through a small telescope. Through January, the phase will continue to shrink or wane as it appears to grow larger in size. By the end of the month it will appear to be more of a crescent shape.
Venus will leave the evening sky in mid-March passing between the Earth and Sun on March 25th.
Mars is also in the western sky after sunset. As Venus curves away from the horizon in January, Mars appears to shift northwards closing the gap between these two planets. Unfortunately, Mars is on the far side of the solar system, so it appears as a moderate to dim reddish star.