By Jupiter! Stargazers enjoy a cosmic treat as the solar system’s largest planet appears close to colliding with Venus in a rare celestial spectacle
- Venus and Jupiter are about 430 million miles apart but looked to be ‘touching’
- The phenomenon happens every year but this weekend appeared much closer
- If there is a clear sky, the naked eye or binoculars will be enough to see planets
Stargazers were enjoying a cosmic treat this weekend as two of the solar system’s brightest planets appear close to colliding in the night sky.
Venus and Jupiter are about 430 million miles apart, but viewed from Earth they appear to be almost touching in a rare celestial spectacle known as a planetary conjunction.
The phenomenon happens every year as the planets orbit the sun, but this weekend the heavenly bodies appear much closer than usual. The same show will not be repeated until 2039.
If there is a clear sky, the naked eye or binoculars will be enough to see the planets just above the horizon in the east.
Venus, the brightest of the duo, will appear just 0.2 degrees – less than the diameter of a full moon – south of Jupiter. The planets are most visible just before dawn in the coming weeks as they start to drift slowly apart.
HEAVENLY sight: Jupiter and Venus loom large in the sky over Rocca Calascio castle in central Italy before sunrise yesterday
A conjunction is when two planets appear close together, or even touching, in the night sky.
Venus and Jupiter have been slowly appearing to close on each other in recent days before meeting in their own conjunction. The best time to witness this was at 5am this morning, just before sunrise.
The planets are now so bright that, if the skies are clear, they are plainly visible to the naked eye.
Enthusiasts with telescopes can make out features of Jupiter or some of its largest moons. It is also possible to get a rare glimpse of Mars and Saturn in the same patch of sky, appearing to form a line of four planets.
Jupiter, named after the king of the Roman gods, is the third brightest object in the night sky after the moon and Venus. It has been marveled at since prehistoric times.
Venus, which will remain visible before dawn until September, is the second planet from the Sun and is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty.
Jupiter (left) and Venus (right) are about 430 million miles apart, but viewed from Earth they appear to be almost touching in a rare celestial spectacle known as a planetary conjunction
With the planets appearing low in the sky, stargazers who have yet to witness the spectacle are advised to find a high spot or an unrestricted view on a clear night to glimpse the dazzling duo.
‘It’s very exciting for astronomers and it’s a really great opportunity for people to get out and have a look,’ Professor Lucie Green, chief stargazer at the Society for Popular Astronomy, told the BBC.
‘The planets will differ in their brightness. Venus is brighter than Jupiter so it will look dazzlingly bright when you see it.
‘Jupiter will be slightly fainter, about one-sixth of the brightness of Venus,’ she said.