Throughout this month, the two brightest planets in the night sky, the cloud-covered world of Venus and the enormous gas giant Jupiter, have been converging for a jaw-dropping close encounter. You don’t want to miss any of the action. It could be the best backyard sky show of 2015!
When the sun goes down, step outside and look west. You don’t have to wait until the sky fades to black. Venus and Jupiter are so bright, you can see them shining through the twilight. In fact, some people say the planets are especially beautiful when they are surrounded by the cobalt hue of the early evening sky, so don’t wait.
The main event occurs on June 30th in the US and other Western countries and on July 1 in Australia and the East. On this night, Venus and Jupiter will be a 1/3rd of a degree apart. That’s less than the diameter of a full Moon. You’ll be able to hide the pair not just behind the palm of your outstretched hand, but behind your little pinky finger.
In these final days of June 2015, the two brightest planets in the night sky are putting on one amazing show. For skywatchers here on Earth, Venus and Jupiter have steadily been drawing closer together since the start of June, and will appear to converge completely on June 30, resembling one super-bright planet in the night sky. It’s the closest the two planets will appear to us until August 2016.
The best part is that you don’t need binoculars or a telescope to see the planets – they’re so bright that they’re visible to the naked eye, and can even be seen during the day at certain times. And for once, you can see the event from anywhere in the world. All you need to do is look to the west for a few hours after sunset.
But if you do have a telescope, the view gets even better, with NASA reporting that gazers should be able to see Venus as a waning crescent, and Jupiter surrounded by its moons.
Of course, Venus and Jupiter actually aren’t getting any closer to each other at all: they’re still more than 800 million kilometres apart. But they look closer together to us because of where both planets are in their respective orbits around the Sun. Because Jupiter is much further from the Sun than Venus, it takes much longer to complete a full rotation, and this means that Venus occasionally laps it. When this happens, the two bright planets pass each other in our night sky and look more like one big double star.
Venus, being closer to the sun than the Earth, can only be seen setting in the west after sunset or rising in the east before sunrise, just like Mercury. It’s as if the planets are tied to the sun and can never drift too far away.
The outer planets are another story. Last February, Jupiter reached opposition, a time when the planet rises in the east as the sun sets in the west. Over the last four months, Jupiter has slowly made its way to the western sky to now meet up with Venus.