During the night, there are millions of tiny sparkling lights in the sky. Some are stars and others are planets. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a star and a planet. When you know what to look for, you can be able to spot the difference on your own. Our tips for spotting the difference can help. But first, let’s start with a basic understanding of the difference between a star and a planet.
A star is a celestial object made mostly of hydrogen and helium that produce light and heat from the churning nuclear forges inside their cores. A star’s distance from the earth and its size are what determines its brightness. In other words, the closer a star is to the Earth, and the bigger the star is, the brighter it will appear. You can take a look at our article about the ten brightest stars you can view in the night sky
A planet on the other hand is an object that orbits a star, is big enough to have a gravitational force and spherical shape, and is big enough that its gravity has cleared away other objects of similar size near its orbit around the star. In our solar system, the planet gets its “glow” from the sun’s light that is reflected from the planet’s face.
How to tell if it’s a star or a planet based on their light:
There are over 10,000 stars visible by the naked eye. However, it can be hard to tell the difference between a star and a planet. One of the easiest ways to tell the difference is to examine the way that the light shines.
Is the light twinkling or is it a steady beam? If the light is twinkling, you are most likely looking at a star. As stars are light-years away, the light they emit travels very far and has to eventually enter through the different layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. By this point, the light has been bent and disrupted which is what causes the stars to look like they are twinkling. Furthermore, stars are further away than the planets in our solar system so they do not shine as bright.
Planets do not emit their own light, rather they are reflecting the sun’s light. As they are closer to the earth, the light appears brighter and more stable.
How to tell if it’s a star or planet based on their movement:
Ancient astronomers were able to distinguish the difference between stars and planets based on their movements throughout several nights. Planets, similarly to the sun and full moon would rise, set, and follow a specific celestial path through the night sky.
Stars in our solar system, however, move in a circular pattern around the North Star. So basically, if you want to identify celestial objects by their movement alone, you will have to chart the course of the objects you see over a series of nights. If the object you are tracking travels in a straight line, you are most likely tracking a planet!
How to tell what planet you are looking at based on its color:
Once you’ve identified a planet, the next step is to identify the planet you are gazing at. The best way to tell the difference between the planets is to observe their color. Though not all planets in the solar system have a specific color, the most prominent plants you can see in the night appear to have a color. This can be seen by looking through a telescope. The following planets appear in the following shades:
Mercury – Gray or Brown
Venus – Pale Yellow
Mars – Varies between pale pink and bright red. The color of Mars is affected by its brightness, which varies on a two-year cycle.
Jupiter – Orange with white bands
Saturn – Pale gold
Uranus and Neptune – Pale blue, however, they are not visible to the naked eye.
The planets that are easiest to see are Mercury, Venus, and Mars. On a clear night, they can even be viewed by the naked eye, you just need to know where to look! These three planets are visible all year round except for a few short periods where they are too close to the sun to be seen through the sun’s rays.
The easiest planets to spot in the night sky are Mercury, Venus, and Mars. They can even be seen with the naked eye on a clear night if you know where to look. They are visible almost all year, except for short periods where they are too close to the sun. Keep reading to find out how you can view each of these planets in the night sky!
Locating Mercury in the night sky:
Mercury is the smallest planet that can be viewed with the naked eye. .It shines like an evening star in the western sky and sets about a half-hour after the sun has set. You can also view Mercury in the eastern sky when it rises about one hour before the sun rises. To be able to see Mercury, you will need a clear and unobstructed view of the horizon. That bright star with a yellowish hue will be Mercury
Locating Venus in the night sky:
Venus is the planet that is most similar in size to Earth. It shines brightly with a steady light. Venus can be seen in the mornings from January to June, which is when it is at its brightest. Venus disappears until Autumn because of its close proximity to the sun. Venus returns to the night sky in October where it can be viewed in the evenings after dusk between October to December.
Locating Mars in the night sky:
Mars is a large red planet and it can be viewed from January to July. Similar to Venus, it disappears until Autumn. Mars’s shine starts at a magnitude of +0.5 and spends the next months distancing itself away from Earth. This causes it to gradually dim as it gets closer to the sun
Is it a star or a planet?
Through using our identification tips, you are hopefully able to identify if the celestial body you are gazing at is a star or a planet. Did you know that you can even name one of the stars you identified?
Unfortunately, you cannot name planets, but you can buy and name a star with Star Register! With a variety of different packages available, there is a name a star gift to suit everyone! Take a look at our options for finding a perfect gift or treat yourself to a star of your own!