Venus and Jupiter have been inching closer together in the western sky in the evening this month. Astronomers at Sky & Telescope claim that they are now the brightest spots in the sky – after the Sun and Moon of course!
On June 1st, they were 20° apart in the sky, about twice the width of your fist held at arm’s length. As the month passed, Jupiter and the stars behind it gradually drew closer in the evening twilight. Venus, due to its rapid orbital motion around the Sun, has stayed high up. Until now.
“Planetary conjunctions have no effect on Earth or human affairs,” notes Sky & Telescope Senior Editor Alan MacRobert, “except for one: they can lift our attention away from our own little world into the enormous things beyond. That’s what amateur astronomers do all the time. A spectacular conjunction like this often gets people started in the hobby. Once you start, there’s no end to how far you can go.”
The two planets were very close to each other, from the Earth’s perspective, on the evenings of June 19th and 20th, 2015.
Beginning on June 27, 2015, the two planets will spend eight evenings within 2° of each other. That’s about a thumb’s width at arm’s length. They’ll be that close through July 4th.
On the evening of June 30th, Venus and Jupiter will appear so close together — just 1/3° apart — that they’ll look like a brilliant double star in the evening sky, according to Sky & Telescope.
Astronomers refer to this event as a conjunction.
Sky & Telescope state that close pairings of Venus and Jupiter are not exactly a rare occurrence.
They appeared slightly closer together before dawn on August 18, 2014, and they’ll be separated by about 1° before dawn on the morning of October 26th.
Sky & Telescope Contributing Editor Fred Schaaf points out that this current trio of Venus-Jupiter conjunctions closely resembles a similar series in 3-2 BC that has been suggested as the Star of Bethlehem.
“As has been the case in 2014–15, the first two conjunctions back then were extremely close, the last one separated by about 1°, all three occurred not far from Regulus, and all were similarly high up in the sky,” Schaaf said.
Although they’ll appear to be exactly juxtaposed next to each other, that’s just an illusion. The Moon is just 247,000 miles away. Venus is 56 million miles from Earth while Jupiter is just over 550 million miles.