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Two worlds waltz before dawn on Monday morning…

Cross your fingers for a clear sky where you live in the wee small hours of Monday morning, because there will be something rather special to see in the east before dawn. About an hour or so before sunrise we’ll be able to see a pair of planets shining so close together in the sky they will look like one big, bright “star” to the naked eye, and through a pair of binoculars it will look like they’re almost touching…

The planets in question are Venus and Jupiter, and although planets appear to come close together in the sky fairly often – astronomers call them “conjunctions” – a close approach between two very bright planets, like this one, are more rare, so if you get a chance to see it on Monday morning, take it. You won’t regret it. You might not see such a striking sight in the sky again for a long time…

So, what do you have to do? Simple. Just stay up late on Sunday night, or set your alarm for You’re Having A Laugh o’clock (3.30/3.45am) Monday morning, then if you area able to leave your garden and head off in the car, find somewhere outside your city or town that’s as dark as possible, away from as much light pollution as you can reasonably go, with a low, flat north eastern horizon, too. That last part is very important: really try to find somewhere with no trees or buildings on the horizon to the east, and certainly no hills, or you might miss the show as any tall objects on the horizon might obscure your view of the planets until the Sun is rising and it’s too late.

Having found a good observing site – wait. Around 4am you should see what looks like a very bright “star” rising up from behind the horizon, off to the lower left of the waning Moon…

V J 1

Look more closely – use binoculars if you have them – and you’ll see that the “star” is actually a pair of stars shining very close together…

v j 6

Those “stars” are actually the two planets, but which is which?

V J 3

There you go, Venus and Jupiter, snuggled up close together in the sky! To your naked eye they might look like one single “star”, but if you have good eyesight you should be able to part them. However, the view through a good pair of binoculars – or a small telescope – should be glorious, with the two shining worlds less than half a degree apart, which is nothing astronomical terms – it’s actually less than the diameter of the Full Moon!

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If your sky is clear before sunrise on Monday morning, really, make every effort to get up and get out and see this. But if it’s cloudy on the morning, well, the two planets will still be close together the following morning, just not as close…

V J 5 19th

If you want to take photos of this event, give it a go! It’s not as if you’re wasting expensive film now, is it? Whatever camera you have, just aim it at the planetary pairing, set your camera to Auto, and see what comes out. But if you have a digital SLR camera, put it on a tripod, fit it with your longest lens and try lots exposures with different ISO ratings and apertures and you will get *something* you’re happy with, especially after a bit of processing in Photoshop or whatever picture processing software you use.

By the way, this planetary hook-up is occurring very close to a famous cluster of stars called the “Beehive Cluster”. You probably won’t be able to make out the star cluster with your naked eye, not with the sky so bright, but if you’re looking at the planets through binocs or a small telescope you should definitely notice a group of little peppercorn stars above and to the left of them…

V J 7

The official name for this cluster is “Praesepe”, and it’s also known as “M44” – which means it is the 44th object in a list of interesting objects to be found in the sky, drawn up by an astronomer called Charles Messier – and it is a quite beautiful sight in a dark sky. You’ll see it better in a few months, don’t worry about it too much now. If you can see it great, but if you can’t, don’t worry, seeing Venus and Jupiter is more important.

But don’t worry about taking or processing photographs, or getting hold of a pair of binoculars or a telescope to look at this with, just set your alarm, drag yourself out of bed, find a good spot and enjoy the show with just your eyes. That’s what astronomy is all about. Not fancy, expensive equipment, but seeing cool stuff in the sky with just your own eyes. 🙂

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One Response

  1. […] so. Was morgen und danach noch passiert, wird u.a. hier (mit gelungenem Video), hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier und hier erzählt. Auch die Seiten eins, zwei und drei der […]

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