Planets Merge in Our Night Sky, Tuesday Evening, June 30
By Phyllis Burton Pitluga
Have you noticed two bright “stars” getting closer in the evening sky recently? The brighter one is our neighbor planet, Venus, and the other is Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. As they draw closer together over the next few nights, they look as though they are going to collide. In reality, Jupiter will be some 550 million miles (about 900 million kilometers) beyond Venus.
Our perspective from Earth is of Venus passing in front of the Sun (on August 15), while Jupiter is way beyond the Sun and will be passing behind the Sun (on August 26). Venus, being closer to the Sun, orbits faster than Earth. Jupiter, being much farther from the Sun, orbits more slowly than Earth. In reality, it is the faster-moving Earth that makes Jupiter look as though it is moving westward behind the Sun when in fact Jupiter is “creeping” eastward.
Use your camera zoom lens, binoculars, or telescope to show that the two worlds appear the same size on June 30 because smaller Venus is so much closer. Venus will be in a crescent phase, while Jupiter will be accompanied by four of its brightest moons, two on each side. Enjoy the cosmic choreography.