Venus And Jupiter Embrace In Sunset Sky Show

Venus and Jupiter above St. Peter’s Dome in Rome on Sunday June 28, 2015. Details: Canon 7D Mark II DSLR, with a 17-55-f/2.8 lens at 24mm f/4 and exposure time was 1/40″. Credit: Gianluca Masi
Venus and Jupiter punctuate the sky above St. Peter’s Dome in Rome on Sunday June 28, 2015. Details: Canon 7D Mark II DSLR, with a 17-55-f/2.8 lens at 24mm f/4 and exposure time was 1/40″. Credit: Gianluca Masi

Look up! The brightest and best planet pairing of the year is underway in the western sky at dusk. Venus and Jupiter have been near one another for months; they’ll finally squeeze closest together tomorrow night (June 30). But you needn’t wait till then. Tonight, the dynamic duo will be just over 1/2° apart, the width of a full moon. Plenty tight.

Seeing the the solar system’s two brightest planets side by side will make for a fantastic sight at dusk. You can start watching shortly after sunset, but they’ll appear most dramatic in a darker sky an hour to 75 minutes later.

The view facing west-northwest about 50 minutes after sunset on June 30 when Venus and Jupiter will be at their closest. If bad weather moves in, they’ll be nearly as close tonight (June 29) and July 1.  Two celestial bodies are said to be in conjunction when they have the same right ascension or “longitude”and line up one atop the other. Source: Stellarium
The view facing west-northwest about 50 minutes after sunset on June 30 when Venus and Jupiter will be at their closest. Two celestial bodies are said to be in conjunction when they have the same right ascension or “longitude”and line up one atop the other. Source: Stellarium

Closest approach occurs tomorrow evening when Venus and Jupiter will be just two-thirds of a moon diameter apart. Your little finger extended at arm’s length covers 1° of sky or twice the width of a full moon. Not until Friday will the two planets pull far enough apart again to fit your pinkie between them. Give it a try.

When two planets or a combination of moon and planets align closely in the sky, they’re in conjunction. Lots of conjunctions happen every year. Heck, the moon’s in conjunction with each of the seven planets once a month. What makes this one special is that it involves the two brightest planets in an especially close conjunction. These happen more rarely, and we can’t help but be drawn in. Shiny alignments catch the eye. More than that, they’re beautiful to behold like wild orchids in the forest.

Clouds expected tomorrow night? The conjunction will be nearly as fine tonight and July 1. Venus and Jupiter over the next few nights facing west at dusk. Times and separations shown for central North America at 10 p.m. CDT. 30 minutes of arc or 30′ equals one Full Moon diameter. Source: Stellarium
Clouds expected tomorrow night? The conjunction will be nearly as fine tonight and July 1. Times and separations shown for central North America at 10 p.m. CDT. 30 minutes of arc or 30′ equals one Full Moon diameter. Source: Stellarium

You can take in the conjunction with the naked eye, binoculars or telescope. Because Venus and Jupiter are so close, those with even the smallest telescopes will experience the unique pleasure of seeing both in the same magnified field of view. Though Jupiter is currently 11 times farther from Earth than Venus, they have the same apparent size because Jove is so much larger.

Venus goes through phases like the moon and will look like a brilliant white crescent. Be sure to look for Jupiter’s four brightest moons on eithe side of the planet tomorrow evening.

The view through a small telescope of Jupiter (top) and Venus on June 30 around 9:30 p.m. CDT. Jupiter’s moons are G = Ganymede, E = Europa, I = Io and C = Callisto. Source: Stellarium
The view through a small telescope of Jupiter (top) and Venus on June 30 around 9:30 p.m. CDT. Jupiter’s moons are G = Ganymede, E = Europa, I = Io and C = Callisto. Source: Stellarium

To capture an image of our planetary pals try using your cellphone. First, find a pretty scene to frame the pair. Hold your phone rock-solid steady against a post or building and click away starting about an hour after sundown when the two planets have good contrast with the sky, but with light still about. If your pictures appear too dark or light, manually adjust the exposure. Here’s a youtube video on how to do it with an iPhone.

Venus and Jupiter sparkle in the twilight glow from the Australian Outback on June 27, 2015. Credit: Joseph Brimacombe
Venus and Jupiter sparkle in the twilight glow from the Australian Outback on June 27, 2015. Credit: Joseph Brimacombe

Point-and-shoot camera owners should place their camera on a tripod, adjust the ISO or sensitivity to 100, open the aperture or f/stop to its widest setting (f/2.8 or f/4), autofocus on the planets and expose from 5-10 seconds in mid-twilight or about 1 hour to 90 minutes after sunset. The low ISO is necessary to keep the images from turning grainy. High-end digital SLR cameras have no such limitations and can be used at ISO 1600 or higher. As always, review the back screen to make sure you’re exposing properly.

Wishing you clear skies as always!

8 Responses

  1. Gary Morris

    Thanks for this Bob, heading to camp by Quetico and hopefully will get some clear skys and be able to show the grandkids the planets. Also didn’t realize my phone had these exposure settings.

    Cheers
    Gary

  2. Troy

    Should make a good conversation piece before July 4th fireworks shows. If it is clear I’ll see about taking my telescope and giving the curious a look.

  3. Sidewalk astronomer Bob

    Looks iffy for tonight here in Duluth. I plan to have my 6″ Dob set up at a 4th floor window, a mini star party for the other ‘inmates’ of the apartment building. No joy? I’ll try again tomorrow night!

    1. astrobob

      Hi Bob,
      I’m hoping the haze will go but looks poor. I saw them last night through the much – not too bad a view. Good luck!

    1. astrobob

      Emanuele,
      Oh wow – that is super nice! Great image and thanks for sharing it. Glad you like the blog – thanks!

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