Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Identified flying object

Relax: No need to prepare for visitors.

Relax: No need to prepare for visitors.

Is it a UFO? Perhaps it's a supernova? Could it be Comet ISON? Are we in any danger? The answers are no, no, no and no!

But it begins high in the sky and moves to a lower position, then changes colours.

Yes, it's the planet Venus, and that's how it should behave.

It's been in our western sky for a number of months already and calls and emails have followed predictably from those surprised, perplexed and alarmed by its appearance.


In the Yarra Ranges it was even responsible for the setting up of a 1000-strong UFO reporting and discussion group on Facebook in June.

Venus is the second-brightest object in the night sky and, if you know where to look, it's bright enough to be seen in daylight. It outshines everything except the moon and the searchlight from the police helicopter when it's aimed directly at you.

It becomes visible periodically for a few months at a time in either the eastern sky before sunrise, or in the west after sunset.

It never fails to startle those not keeping an eye on the sky when they first become aware of it.

The shifting of position through the night is solely attributable to the constant eastward spin of the Earth, making it appear to go from high in the west to low to the horizon within a couple of hours. Changes in colour are caused by low elevation and a turbulent atmosphere. The gradual movement against the background stars is because of the orbital motion of both planets.

Tonight, about 8pm, it will present a particularly beautiful vista. To its immediate left will be red supergiant star Antares, separated by about 1.5 degrees, the width of your little finger at arm's length. The proximity, however, is just an illusion. In reality, although they're both in the same direction from us, Venus is about 117 million kilometres from Earth, but to get to Antares, you'd need to be prepared to travel for another 630 years at the speed of light.
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