Venus and Jupiter: how to spot them

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The two planets will appear side-by-side in western skies for the next two evenings – offering a dazzling spectacle. So where and how can you best see them?

A crescent moon hangs in the sky above Venus (on the left) and Jupiter in the evening sky in 2008. Photograph: Jamie Cooper/Getty Images

After the moon, they are the two brightest objects in the night sky, and for the next few evenings they will appear side-by-side in western skies in a dazzling heavenly spectacle.

Though Jupiter is seven times farther from Earth than Venus, the planets’ orbits bring them into close approach on Tuesday evening, when they will appear only three degrees, or a few finger-widths, apart….

From Tuesday, the planets will gradually move apart, but remain within five degrees of one another until Saturday, after which their next heavenly meeting in fully dark skies will be on June 2015. Venus, the second rock from the sun, appears by far the brighter of the two, because it receives and reflects more intense sunlight than reaches Jupiter, the fifth planet out, beyond the orbit of Mars.

“They are easy to spot in clear skies,” says Marek Kukula, public astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. “Look towards where the sun has just set and then look up. Even when the sky is still a deep twilight blue, you’ll see a dazzling white Venus with Jupiter just to the left.” The planets shine brightly because their cloud cover is so efficient at reflecting sunlight.

With binoculars or an amateur telescope, stargazers might glimpse three or four moons in orbit around Jupiter. Observations of these moons 400 years ago prompted Galileo to declare that not all heavenly bodies orbited the Earth.

All of the planets in the solar system orbit the sun in more or less the same plane, so they appear on a line in the sky called the ecliptic. Draw a line through Jupiter and Venus and it will eventually lead to the reddish dot of Mars, and later Saturn, in the eastern night sky.

For many, the spectacular sight will be obscured by a thick blanket of cloud that covers much of Britain, at least on Tuesday.

“The best place for any sort of break in the cloud will be the north east of Scotland,” a Met Office spokesman said, though conditions look better on Wednesday.

Tonight, “There may be some good chances to see the night sky in southern and southeastern England, from Hampshire eastwards into the home counties and down the south coast, and also in much of Wales, and the northeast of England, from Tyne and Wear to Northumberland,” the spokesman added……

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Written by physicsgg

March 13, 2012 at 4:24 pm


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