This Week's Amazing Sky: Do You Have Conjunction-itis?

January 29, 2016
Venus and Jupiter, June 30, 2015

Everyone loved last Saturday's wonderful meeting of the Moon with Venus and Jupiter. Happily, the sky has one more treat up its sleeve. This conjunction may be even better.

Start this Sunday evening, June 28.  Look into the fading twilight, say at 9:15 or 9:30.  Two brilliant stars side by side.  The most dazzling is Venus, now at its brightest.  It hasn't looked this good in years. Next to it is Jupiter.  They both circle around the Sun of course, but Venus travels so fast that we can actually see its 22 mile-per-second orbital motion.  Sunday evening, Venus is the rightmost member of the pair, but this will change almost overnight.

9 P.M. (EDT) on June 28, 2015: Look towards the west and you'll see the two brightest planets in the night sky converging!
Credit: NASA

Also on Sunday night, look just below the Moon.  That star almost touching the Moon is the planet Saturn.  When has finding Saturn been easier?  If you have any kind of telescope, this is where to point it.  No celestial item is more amazing than those rings.  All it takes is anything over 30x.  Don't bother trying binoculars.  They're not powerful enough.

Fast forward to the next night, Monday, June 29.  Same time, and now Venus and Jupiter are even closer together.  But the dramatic climax happens Tuesday evening, June 30.  Don't miss it.  There in deepening twilight, the two brightest 'stars' in all the heavens hover dramatically close together. 

9 P.M. (EDT) on June 30, 2015: Look up! Venus and Jupiter are a jaw-dropping ⅓ degree apart—less than the diameter of a full Moon!
Credit: NASA

In actuality, Venus floats between us and the Sun while Jupiter is way off in the distance, five times farther away than the Sun. Its nearness explains why Venus appears 10 times brighter, and also the fact that Venus' clouds are the shiniest items in the solar system.  They're more reflective than fresh snow.  Weirdly, they're made of concentrated sulfuric acid droplets. This is a look-don't-touch kind of thing.

If you'd like to squeeze a bit more out of this conjunction, the single star to the left of the planets—not nearly as bright but boasting a pastel blue coloris Regulus, the famous alpha star of Leo the Lion. The show starts Sunday evening. Write and tell us whether you saw all this, and what you thought!

About This Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s hub for everything stargazing and astronomy. Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, he covers everything under the Sun (and Moon)! Bob, the world’s mostly widely read astronomer, also has a new weekly podcast, Astounding Universe