Nine-thirty, Monday night. June 29, 2015.
“This skychart shows the view of the Venus-Jupiter conjunction on July 1, 2015 and what the pretty pair will look like through backyard telescopes.” Illustration by Andrew Farekas, courtesy of National Geographic.
I should start a new category for the archives. “The View from the Front Porch.” Venus and Jupiter are on their way to a conjunction Wednesday. Tonight they’re looking pretty close to bumping elbows. I just tried looking at them through binoculars. Didn’t see much more than I can with my naked eye. No Jovian moons, darnit. But I still felt very science-y.
Here’s some of the real science, from National Geographic:
You can read all of Andrew Frazekas’ whole story, Venus and Jupiter Get Bright and Tight in This Week's Sky, and see more of his illustrations at National Geographic.
While limited in their scientific interest, historically Venus and Jupiter conjunctions may be a possible answer to the Star of Bethlehem legend. In the years 2 and 3 B.C. there was a similar series of three stunningly close pairings between the planets that would have caught the eye of ancient astronomers.
Today, the best bet to catch sight of the pretty pairing is to look westward and high the sky beginning a half hour after local sunset. As darkness falls, beacon-like Venus will make its appearance first. Both planets shine so brilliantly, however that observers should have no problem spotting them at dusk. Some novice skywatchers may even mistake them for oncoming lights of airplanes.
Venus will appear about 6 times brighter than Jupiter even though it's only a tenth the size. That’s because Venus is eternally enshrouded with highly reflective white clouds and is much closer to Earth. It's about 56 million miles (90 million kilometers) away while Jupiter is much more distant—some 550 million miles (890 million kilometers). So their apparent proximity to each other is just an optical illusion.
With even the smallest of backyard telescopes, you will be able to spot Venus’s disk, which resembles a miniature version of a quarter moon. With Jupiter, high magnification will showcase its dark cloud belts and four of its largest moons, sitting beside the planet like a row of ducks.