Monday, 26 January 2015

Bright light in trees

Venus in treesVenus is said to be the commonest natural object reported as a UFO. I have always had trouble understanding this. The reason is that I've been keenly interested in astronomy since I was a child. As a result I've pretty much always known what Venus looked like. So I find it hard to put myself in the position of someone reporting the planet as a UFO.

Venus (pic right, taken recently) resembles a very bright star. It is the brightest object in the sky apart for the sun and moon. It appears in the night sky soon after sunset or not long before sunrise. It moves across the sky at the same apparent speed as the stars around it making it look pretty much stationary. Apart from helicopters there are few mundane objects that hover for long periods in the air so it is, perhaps, understandable they will get reported as UFOs occasionally.

There are times when Venus can appear unfamiliar even to those who've seen it before. In the photo here, for instance, it appears as a bright light through trees. It might, on such occasions, appear to flicker or flash if it is temporarily obscured by branches blowing in a breeze. Venus can also look a bit unusual if seen through a mist. And if the planet is very close to the horizon, it may be subject to distorting mirage effects like those that created the 'lumpy horizon' I mentioned recently (here). And, of course, there are people who are simply not familiar with Venus and are surprised by its brilliance when they notice it for the first time. As the population of most countries becomes steadily more urbanized I suppose this sort of thing will increase.

As with any xenonormal phenomenon, whether something gets reported as an anomaly usually comes down to how familiar it is to the observer and the viewing conditions. I doubt I could ever see Venus as anything mysterious but I'm probably tempting fate by saying so!

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