Venus, the most illuminated planet, and Jupiter, the gas giant, will appear as two orbs almost touching – separated by less than 1 degree in the night sky. Conjunctions occur when two planets, a planet and a star, or a planet and the Moon appear from Earth to almost graze each other. But this connection is different because of the proximity of the planets.
If you were to reach out and hold your pinky out to the night sky, “you couldn’t fit your pinky between these planets, they’re so close,” said NASA Ambassador Tony Rice. “They don’t come that close very often.”
But don’t be fooled – it’s an optical illusion. Although it may look like the two planets are enjoying each other, they are actually separated by millions of miles of space.
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Venus and Jupiter have been gradually moving towards each other in recent weeks. Last week they formed a wonderful line with the crescent moon.
The two planets will drive slowly toward each other Wednesday and Thursday night before separating until May 2024, according to Noah Petro, a scientist with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter project at NASA. The last time Venus and Jupiter were together was April 30, 2022.
The next time Venus and Jupiter will be as close as they are now will be on February 7, 2032, according to Rice.
On Wednesday night, Jupiter, to the left of Venus, will be the fainter planet because it is much further away, Rice said. Venus will shine almost six times as brightly as Jupiter.
The two planets will be closest around midnight, when they will be half a degree apart, Petro said. Then the planets will gradually move away from each other.
So if you want to find the two sunset showstoppers, look to the western sky – as the character Elphaba says in the musical “Wicked”. Away from bright city lights and where the sky is clear, the pair should be visible to anyone on Earth with the naked eye, but binoculars or a telescope will bring the pair more into focus.
Jupiter’s four large moons may also be visible to viewers with a strong telescope.
After Thursday, Venus will slowly rise higher from the horizon with each passing night. But Jupiter will sink into the skyline, “disappearing below the evening horizon by the middle of the month,” Rice said.
If you miss the spectacular glow from Venus and Jupiter on Wednesday night, Thursday night will offer another chance. If you miss both viewings this month, don’t worry: Conjunctions are common! But you’ll have to wait until the summer solstice to see the next one.
On the first official day of summer, Venus, Mars and the Moon will form a triangle in the night sky. No special equipment will be required to view the trio.
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