If you’ve been looking west after sunset recently you can’t have failed to see Venus blazing there, as bright as a lantern, outshining everything else in the sky. To Venus’ upper left is another bright” star”, which is actually another planet, Jupiter. ( Look to the east around 9pm and you’ll see another planet shining here – Mars, looking like a bright orange star. ) If you’ve been watching Venus and Jupiter over the past few weeks you’ll have noticed that they’re actually moving closer, a little nearer to each other each night, and they’re now looking very impressive in the twilight.
Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet… 🙂
Next month Venus and Jupiter will be MUCH closer than they are now. In fact they’re going to pass each other – Jupiter dropping down towards the horizon, getting closer to the Sun, while Venus moves higher up in the sky, moving away from the Sun, and brightening as it does so.
So next month amateur astronomers and skywatchers will be out on every clear night, following this beautiful “conjunction” of two bright planets, taking thousands and thousands of photos, too. I know I will be! But what will the pair look like on different nights?
I’ve made a short animation which shows exactly that. If the animation doesn’t start playing right away in your browser just click on it and it will start. Venus is the brighter planet, i.e. the larger “dot” and Jupiter is the fainter/smaller. You’ll notice a third dot very close to the horizon on some of the images – this is ANOTHER planet, Mercury! The number, top left, is the date…but you probably figured that out already… 🙂
So, if you like you can use this animation to plan when and where to see and maybe even photograph this gorgeous sky event. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for clear skies after sunset on the 13th, when the two planets will be at their closest, looking like a beautiful bright “double star” in the west. If your sky IS clear that evening, seriously, make every effort to get out of town, to a dark location, and enjoy the spectacle at its best. It’ll be worth it.
Below: animation showing “close approach” of Jupiter and Venus in March 2012…
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