Paul McCartney once sang, “Venus and Mars are alright, tonight”. Well tonight, and until the end of the month, Venus and Jupiter are a little more than alright.
From 19 June until 30 June, the moon, and the planets Venus and Jupiter, will appear together in the night sky, slowly converging as the event takes place. The two planets are always the brightest planets viewed from Earth, but for this 2-week period they will be even brighter and even the most amateur stargazer can get involved.
Additionally on the night of 30 June, Venus and Jupiter will move to their closest approach to each other, forming what will look like a double planet. The two planets will be just one-third of a degree apart on this night, which translates to being apart only by the width of the moon in the night sky.
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Venus is similar in size to Earth, and has a 225-day orbit. We have put probes onto the surface, but the extreme heat has destroyed them within hours. Jupiter is the largest planet in the Solar System, and it is thought that its core alone is the size of Earth.
How often does a configuration of Venus and Jupiter like this take place? The last such event was 7 years ago, so yes, while it’s not as rare an event as say Halley’s Comet, it will be a lot easier to see, as you will not need a telescope, just the naked eye is needed, or a pair of binoculars or camera with zoom for an even closer look.
This particular planetary event is easy to find and see, but if you do need some help to ensure that you are looking in the right place, there are some excellent apps available for either your smartphone or tablet. One such app is called ’Night Sky’ which is available for both Apple devices on iTunes, and on the Google Play store for Android devices. The original version is available for free, while an updated version 2 is available for under $4. In addition to mapping the sky for you they also have an amazing gallery of photographs, information on all the planets, moons, stars, and more.
So, will you stop over the next couple of weeks and have a look, or did the slight smudge somewhere in a cloudy sky that was Halley’s Comet put you off amateur astronomy? Do you have other night sky apps that you use and recommend?