Following last night’s Super Blood Wolf Moon, astronomers are in for another treat tonight: a planetary conjunction between two of our Solar System’s most impressive planets.
In the early hours of Tuesday (22 January), Venus and Jupiter will appear very bright and close in the night sky – a phenomenon often called “kissing planets”.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Venus-Jupiter conjunction.
What is a conjunction?
According to NASA, a conjunction is “a celestial event in which two planets or a planet and the moon or a planet and a star appear close together in the night sky.”
Of course, it’s all a matter of perspective: Venus and Jupiter won’t actually be anywhere near each other.
“In reality, the planets are hundreds of millions of miles apart,” say Nasa.
Venus can be anywhere from 25 to 162 million miles from Earth (depending on the two planets’ orbits), and Jupiter’s distance ranges from 365 to 601 million miles.
Even when Venus and Jupiter are at their closest point in space, they’re still some 365 million miles apart.
“Conjunctions have no real astronomical value,” NASA have said. “But they are nice to view.”
When can I see the Venus-Jupiter conjunction?
While both Jupiter and Venus are visible in the pre-dawn night sky as of now, it won’t be until the early hours of 22 January that the conjunction occurs.
So long as the sky is clear, you should have no trouble pointing the planets out, as Venus and Jupiter are the third and fourth brightest objects in the sky after the sun and moon.
The brighter of the two bodies will be Venus, which will appear more brilliant than Jupiter despite being much smaller than the gas giant.
That’s because it’s much closer to Earth – the closest planet to our world – though Jupiter is the largest planet in the Solar System.
After the planets have made their conjunction, Jupiter will appear to climb upward in the sky, and Venus to sink downward.
When will the next one occur?
Conjunctions between planets and other heavenly bodies are quite common, but those between Jupiter and Venus are most anticipated by astronomers due to the brightness of the celestial bodies involved.
Jupiter and Venus conjunctions take place roughly once a year, but in 2019 we will be treated to two – the second one will occur much later in the year, on 24 November.
January’s conjunction is one to try to observe if you can though, as it will be more spectacular than most others.
That’s because the planets will appear to be about as far away from the rising sun as they can get in the dawn sky, and so won’t be drowned out by our star’s glare.
What do I need to see it?
Weather permitting, you won’t need any specialist equipment to see the two planets, as both will be shining brightly in the sky.
However, if you do have access to a telescope, you may want to point it towards the heavens, as you may be able to point out details like the four main moons of Jupiter.
You’ll need to be up early to see the conjunction, as it will be visible just before dawn, while it’s still dark enough to pick out the brightest stars.
You’ll want to be looking eastwards in the general direction of the sunrise to spot the planets, which will appear as exceptionally bright stars.