Starry Night
This sky map shows the location of Venus, labeled in red, on the morning of Nov. 3 as seen from mid-northern latitudes.
updated 11/2/2010 2:15:47 PM ET 2010-11-02T18:15:47

Planetariums, observatories, weather offices and perhaps even police stations should be prepared to receive a bevy of inquiries during the next couple of weeks concerning a strange "UFO" that will soon be making appearances low in the eastern sky just before sunrise. 

The unusual lateness of sunrise may add to the confusion for skywatchers, since it coincides with the sudden arrival of the bright sky apparition. But there's no need to be alarmed.

That bright light in the sky is only the planet Venus, which returns to visibility Wednesday, Nov. 3.

This sky map shows where to look to spot Venus on that date.

Venus shines bright
Venus' bright arrival comes in the midst of likely darkness for those who are heading out to work and school in the morning. [Gallery: Photos of Venus ]

This is an artifact of daylight saving time. Since daylight saving time was extended into the first week of November  in 2008, sunrises at this time occur later than even in the dead of winter. 

Indeed, for some parts of the country, the sun doesn't rise until after 8 a.m. local time.

That means that countless millions are starting their days with the stars as their morning companion. Perhaps you've driven to work under the cover of darkness, or waited at a bus or train station and have looked around and gotten acquainted with the starry background.

If you've been glancing toward the east-southeast part of the sky, you probably haven't noticed anything particularly noteworthy or eye-catching.

Morning sky change looms
But it will all change quite suddenly on the morning of Nov. 3. 

On that morning, about a half-hour before sunrise, a dazzling silvery-white star-like object will suddenly appear just above the east-southeast horizon. Its likely to take more than a few people by surprise, since it simply wasn't there on previous mornings.  And, on following mornings, it will appear noticeably higher on the horizon. 

This is Venus, beginning a spectacular morning apparition.

  1. Space news from
    1. KARE
      Teen's space mission fueled by social media

      Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: "Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew.

    2. Buzz Aldrin's vision for journey to Mars
    3. Giant black hole may be cooking up meals
    4. Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online

It climbs nearly 10 degrees high (a portion of the sky that can be covered by your clenched fist held at arm's length) at sunrise on Nov. 6 the final morning of daylight saving time. Clocks will be set back one hour the following day and sunrises will come an hour earlier, but by then, Venus will be firmly established as a dazzling harbinger of sunrise. 

Venus will be 20 degrees high at sunrise on Nov. 16, and 27 degrees on Nov. 25 as seen from Northern Hemisphere locations around  40 degrees north latitude.

As November ends, Venus rises a full three hours before the sun and hangs almost 30 degrees high at sunrise. Venus will brighten impressively throughout the month. For early morning commuters, who will likely wonder about this brilliant luminary bursting upon the predawn scene, Venus will no doubt call attention to itself.

Venus' quick transition
Some might wonder why Venus will become so quickly established as a dazzling morning entity compared with those occasions when it seems to take many days or weeks sometimes even months to transition into the evening sky. 

The difference lies in Venus' position relative to the Earth. When Venus moves from the morning sky into the evening sky (called "superior conjunction") its located on the opposite side of the sun relative to Earth. 

Located at about 160 million miles from Earth on these occasions, Venus is moving at its slowest speed against the background stars. Whets more, it is also moving in the same apparent direction against the stars as the sun to the east. 

So in the days leading up to and then even after superior conjunction, Venus continues to languish in the bright glare of the sun. 

Finally  and very gradually Venus moves just far enough away from the sun to be glimpsed for a short time, low near the western horizon shortly after sunset.  Perhaps after a number of weeks, the planet climbs high enough to become conspicuous to all in our evening sky.

But in a morning transition, things are much different.

At inferior conjunction (which is where Venus was on Oct. 28), the planet passed between Earth and the sun. It was also only about 25 million miles from Earth more than six times closer than it is at superior conjunction. 

So Venus is moving much faster against the background stars. And, most importantly, as seen from our Earthly vantage point, the sun and Venus appear to be moving in opposite directions. 

While the sun plods along toward the east, Venus is racing away to the west, which allows it to literally appear to "bolt" into the morning sky and become readily established as a predawn beacon over the span of just a week or two, as opposed to many weeks in the evening. 

And lastly, because Venus is so much nearer, morning apparitions begin with the planet already near its peak brilliance.    

Crescent Venus
This phase of Venus looks most remarkable through a telescope, especially early in November. Observers with optical aid will be treated to the marvel of a huge (close to an arc minute long), but wire-thin, crescent (only a few percent illuminated) when Venus is first sighted after inferior conjunction. 

You can even see the crescent with 7x50 binoculars, and some folks with exceptional eyesight might even be able to perceive it without optical aid.   

So if you hear about any strange UFO sightings being made in the early morning hours during the coming weeks, at least you now know what it likely is.

© 2013 All rights reserved. More from

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

loading photos...
  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments