The two planets will appear to be just a fraction of a degree apart in the sky on Tuesday night.
The conjunction of the Jupiter and Venus may explain the “Star of Bethlehem” described in the Bible, and those wishing to witness the celestial event should look west-northwest a short while after sunset, writes Michael Pearson for CNN.
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Jupiter and Venus conjunction: Catch a special planetary conjunction tonight
“To the eye they’ll look like a double star,” writes Sky & Telescope editor Kelly Beatty. Conjunctions between planets occur on a fairly regular basis, and Sky & Telescope explains that the event is caused by the alignment of the Earth, Juipter and Venus within the solar system.
However, tonight’s conjunction is set to be a special one. The planets will appear to be just one-third of a degree apart, and people across large swathes of the Earth will be able to witness the event without staying up until the early hours. This combination of factors has led Rice University astronomer Patrick Hartigan to write that tonight’s event ranks “very highly” compared to other conjunctions.
Should you miss the show this evening, other conjunctions between Jupiter and Venus will occur in August and October this year. However the next time that the two planets will appear so close together in our sky will not be until 2023, according to Hartigan.
Hope for clear skies tonight
Although the planets will appear to be incredibly close, they will in fact be separated by millions of miles. “These planetary groupings in the sky have no effect on Earth or human affairs — except for one,” said Sky & Telescope senior editor Alan MacRobert. “They can lift our attention away from our own little world into the enormous things beyond.”
Jupiter and Venus are the two brightest planets that we can see from Earth, and those readers in North America will be able to observe the event if there are clear skies.
Keen stargazers will have noticed that Jupiter and Venus have been edging closer and closer together over the course of the past few weeks, and tonight will be the culmination of their celestial dance.