Since the beginning of June, the two brightest planets in the night sky have been moving ever closer together. Tonight, the worlds will be at their closest for the year just after sunset in a spectacular pairing that sees them a third of a degree apart. That’s a distance that’s so tightly knitted that you’ll be able to cover the duo with nothing more than the tip of your outstretched little finger.
Taking on a double star appearance in the evening sky, look west just after sunset on the border of the constellations Leo (The Lion) and Cancer (The Crab). Being the brightest stars in the night sky tonight and for many evenings onward, you don’t need any observing equipment to view this stunning sight. However, if you own a small telescope, the planetary duo will be revealed in the same field of view, with Venus taking on the appearance of a brilliant crescent while Jupiter shines brightly in the company of its four largest moons – Io, Ganymede, Europa and Callisto.
The pair may appear close in the sky, but with Venus being 77 million kilometres (58 million miles) from us and Jupiter 12 times farther out at a distance of 909 million kilometres (565 million miles), it’s really just an illusion. Additionally, through a telescope, the planets will appear almost identical in size thanks to a combination of Jupiter’s enormous diameter and its great distance from Earth that allows it to match up with Venus. The pair will reveal a contrast in brightness, with the second planet from the Sun taking on a dazzlingly bright appearance whilst the king of the Solar System is toned down in contrast with its duller, striped cloud deck.
The spectacle provides an exciting opportunity for astrophotographers, so don’t forget to send your images of Jupiter and Venus to us at [email protected] for a chance to be featured in the print edition of All About Space magazine!