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A trio of bright lights lines up parallel to the western horizon this evening. The lights are low in the sky at sunset, and set by 11 o’clock or so.
The center light is also the brightest: Venus, the evening star. It’s the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon.
Despite its nickname, Venus isn’t a star at all. Instead, it’s a planet. It shines so prominently because it’s close by, and because it’s close to the Sun, so it receives a lot of sunlight. It’s also covered by bright clouds that reflect most of that sunlight back into space.
The second-brightest member of the trio is Capella. It’s to the right of Venus, by about two and a half times the width of your fist held at arm’s length.
Capella is a true star. Or to be more precise, it’s four stars, all bound by gravity. The stars form two pairs. One pair is faint. But the other consists of two giant stars, both of which are quite bright. So even from a distance of 43 light-years, the system forms the sixth-brightest star in the night sky.
The third member of the trio is Procyon, about the same distance to the left of Venus. It’s also known as the Little Dog Star because it’s the leading light of Canis Minor, the Little Dog. It looks bright mainly because it’s close — less than 12 light-years away.
And if those bright objects aren’t enough, two others stand above Venus: Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini — adding to the light show in the western evening sky.
Script by Damond Benningfield