Catherine Richards of Hampden asks :-

I was delighted by the brilliant display in the early morning sky: the cresent Moon, Orion and the Great Dog with Sirius at its sparkling best. But Venus stood out the most. Why does it appear so big?

Alan Gilmore, an astronomer at the University of Canterbury's Mt John Observatory, responded.

The brilliant Morning Star is the planet Venus, prominent in the dawn sky since late June. It is particularly striking right now as it rises into the dark sky before 5 a.m. It will continue to rise more than two hours before sunrise until mid September. After that it slowly drops lower in the dawn but will be visible in the twilight till next year.

Venus is the brightest of the planets, shining with a brilliant silvery light. It is bright enough to cast shadows in dark locations. If you know where to look then you can see Venus by naked eye in the daylight sky.

Venus is closer to the sun than Earth and so orbits more quickly. It catches up on the Earth and passes us by every 584 days. During that interval it spends half the time as Evening Star and half as Morning Star. Much of the time it is on the far side of the sun so is lost in the bright twilight.

Venus is similar in size to the earth but is completely covered with cloud. The cloud reflects sunlight making Venus so bright.

Jupiter is only other prominent planet just now. It is in the evening sky; the bright golden 'star' in the north-west at dusk.