Jupiter And Venus Cozy Up For One Of The Best Conjunctions Of The Year

Jupiter (top) and Venus appear over Duluth’s downtown Friday evening an hour after sunset in the southwestern sky. The were just 2° apart at the time. They’ll be closest together Sunday night (Nov. 24).  Bob King

Don’t miss what’s happening in the southwestern sky after sundown the next few nights. The sky’s two brightest planets are pairing up for one of the prettiest conjunctions of the year. Yesterday evening I spotted the pair at 4:55 p.m. local time just 35 minutes after sundown. Venus was obvious about 10° high with Jupiter peeking out above it. By 5:15 p.m. the pair was sparklingly obvious hanging over the city of Duluth in the ruddy glow of twilight. Unmissable.

If you have 10x binoculars or a small telescope you’ll be able to see Jupiter’s four brightest moons — two on either side of the planet — Sunday night, Nov. 24. Stellarium

Tonight the planetary duo will be even closer — about 1.5° or three full moons — and reach closest approach of just under 1.5° on Sunday, Nov. 24. Their relative positions shift each night for two reasons. First, the apparent separation of Venus from the sun is increasing which makes the planet move up and away from the western horizon. Meanwhile, Jupiter is sliding westward in the opposite direction because of Earth’s motion around the sun. All celestial objects partake in this seasonal drift. Each night, all planets and stars in the eastern sky rise 4 minutes earlier while those in the west set 4 minutes earlier.

A celestial feast awaits skywatchers Thanksgiving evening. Look low in the southwestern sky for the moon and three planets about 45 minutes to an hour after sunset. Fainter Saturn is also visible near the bright duo Sunday, located two fists (held at arm’s length) to their upper left. Stellarium

Like two cars in opposite lanes on a two-lane highway, Venus and Jupiter have been approaching each other for months. They’ll finally pass on Sunday. If you have clouds, be patient. You’ll still be able to see huddled close during the coming week. In fact, a beautiful sliver moon will join the pair on Thanksgiving evening (Nov. 28). If the sky is clear and you have a good view to the southwest make a point to go out for a look after dinner. Take your cell phone and try to get a picture of the three luminaries in a scene of your choice.

Watch for a cool lineup of two planets, a super-thin crescent moon and Spica. Stellarium

If you’ve an early riser look east Monday (Nov. 25) and you’ll see the three M’s — Mars, Mercury and a very thin crescent moon — and Virgo’s brightest star Spica. They’ll form a nearly line 25° long (2 1/2 fists) starting low in at the southeastern horizon with the moon and ending at Spica. Mars is the faintest of the trio at magnitude 1.7 (still easy to spot) with Mercury bright at magnitude –0.3.

The crescent moon filled with earthshine parks near the planet Mars (at right) this morning (Nov. 24). The star close to the moon is Kappa Virginis. Bob King

At this time of year when we give thanks we can include the sky and the cosmic cycles that enrich our lives.