Changing Planet

Night Sky News: Venus and Jupiter Main Event

If you have been watching the early evening skies at all in the last few weeks you probably noticed the two superbright ‘stars’ in the west are drawing closer together by the day.  Two of the most brilliant planets in our solar system, Venus and Jupiter, are about to get a lot more cozy in the heavens.

The main event will be from March 12 to 15 when the two worlds will come closest together in the sky. The planetary pair will be only 3 degrees apart. That is equal to the width of your three middle fingers at arms length, making for a spectacular sight not to be missed. By the way, Venus is the brighter of the two.

Over the course of a few nights Jupiter and Venus have a stunning close encounter. Illustration courtesy of Sky & Telescope

After this week the two planets will part company – like two passing ships – with Venus continuing its climb higher in the sky and Jupiter slowly sinking towards the horizon.

Conjunctions between planets are not the rarest sights but it does really depend  on their placement in their orbits so that they appear to be in the same line of sight from our point of view here on Earth.

While Venus takes 224 days to make one orbit around the Sun,  it takes Jupiter just under 12 years to do the same since it circles the sun much farther away.

It’s incredible to think that these bright points in the sky are the reflection of sunlight off the cloud tops of Jupiter and Venus.  And remember that it’s only an optical illusion that they appear side by side. While Venus is about 150 million km from Earth, Jupiter is more than 600 million km further away!

Illustration Courtesy of Sky & Telescope

So it’s really just a matter of time for Jupiter and Venus to have a another close encounter in our skies.

If you miss this close conjunction however you will have to wait until 2015 for the next opportunity.

Also, as a final celestial act, mark March 25 and 26 on your calendar- the thin crescent moon will join Jupiter and then Venus in back to back pretty pairings in the western sunset sky.

 

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media