January 4, 2017, 5:30pm, clear skies, Philadelphia, Pa.
The moon was in its first quarter and shining brilliantly on us as I walked with my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter down the street. Her parents must have taught her to look up at the sky (as we all should) and she told me, “Look grandma,the moon and a star!” As we walked, she said it over and over again but then started saying, “Look grandma it’s the moon and a planet!” I recall telling her mother, my daughter, that the first star you see at night may not always be a star.
A star is a fixed luminous point in the night sky that is a large, remote incandescent body like the sun. Stars are so far away that the light we see may have travelled for millions of years before it reaches our eyes.
But a planet is a celestial body moving in an elliptical orbit around a star that reflects light from that star.
Sometimes, we can see Venus as the first “star” at night. She twinkles like a star because light is being reflected off her thick clouds and because Venus is relatively close to earth. Venus can often be seen within a few hours after sunset or before sunrise as the brightest object in the sky other than the moon.
The other planet we sometimes see first in the sky is Jupiter. It also reflects light that makes it appear to twinkle like a star.
If you do see a star, it will be Arcturus, the first star in the Big Dipper. It will appear overhead in the Western Hemisphere and be slightly reddish.
Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have this wish I wish tonight.
It makes me wonder then, if we chant this children’s poem are we really wishing to Venus, or Jupiter (planets) or to Arcturus?