By Dave Warren

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Catch a glimpse of the third brightest object in our sky over the next few weeks. Venus is third to the sun and moon and is easy to spot in the western sky just after sunset. Starting around 5:30 p.m. look west and, weather permitting of course, you will easily spot the bright planet following the Sun’s path and setting just under three hours later.

Venus is the next closest planet to the Sun in our solar system so it will never appear directly overhead like Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn do at certain times of the year. Even though the Sun’s rays are only hitting a portion of the planet, it still shines bright in the sky.

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Venus reflects about 70% of the sunlight that hits it, compared to 10% that the moon reflects. (CBSMiami)

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The term albedo is used by astronomers to describe how bring a planet is in absolute terms. It is a comparison of how much sunlight is reflected vs. how much is absorbed and is always less than one. Venus has an albedo of 0.7 which means it reflects about 70 percent of the sunlight hitting it. The moon, on the other hand, only has an albedo of 0.1. It’s made up of dark rock and appears brighter than Venus only because it is so close to Earth.

The reason for this reflectivity lies above the surface of the planet. Venus is surrounded by clouds which contain sulfuric acid. These clouds of gas and crystals create a highly reflective surface. Sunlight reflected by these clouds is the reason Venus is so bright despite it being so far from Earth.

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The planet is relatively close to Earth in its orbit in early December making for a bright show in the western sky for a few hours after sunset.

Dave Warren