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.
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.
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.
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.
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!