What's the difference between
stars and planets?

What's the difference between planets and stars
to the naked eye?


This is a guide for those of us who are just standing in our gardens and looking up at the sky. No telescopes needed.


  • Stars are really bright (just look at the sun. Actually, don't or you'll burn your eyeballs out) but are much further away than planets so appear less bright. Planets, unlike stars, don't produce their own light so we can only see them when they are in the light of the sun

  • Stars don't actually twinkle but can look as if they do because of the disturbance caused by all the atmosphere between us and them
    ie. they are blinkin' far away. Planets don't have the twinkle effect and so don't appear in any nursery rhymes.
  • While stars appear white, some planets are visibly different in colour. Mars, for example, can look pinkor red and Venus can appear yellow.

  • Stars look as if they are moving in an arc which is largely due to the spinning and travelling of the earth rather than the actual movement of stars as they are so far away.

  • So, in summary, stars are much brighter than planets, travel at speed and don't twinkle. However, because they are so far away, they look duller than planets, only seem to move when the Earth moves and they twinkle. Go figure.