On June 30, 2015, Venus and Jupiter lined up very closely in the night sky as seen from Earth, just 0.3 degrees apart — closer than the diameter of the full moon!
The day of the conjunction was muggy and cloudy, and I really didn’t expect to see them at all. To my surprise and relief, it cleared up and cooled off after nightfall.
You really don’t notice how much brighter Venus is than Jupiter until they’re right next to each other. Jupiter is much bigger, so it reflects a lot more sunlight, but it’s also a lot farther away.
Also, that conventional wisdom about how stars twinkle, but planets don’t? Not true. In turbulent air, planets absolutely twinkle.
Two nights later on July 2, I walked outside facing west. The sky near the horizon was still orange, but the two brightest planets were clearly visible against the deepening blue.
And just to show you how fast Venus moves across the sky, here’s the view 10 days before the conjunction, on June 20:
I didn’t have a tripod handy that night, so I used the top of the car, which conveniently lined up with Jupiter and the chimney.
My tripod, on the other hand, seems not to have been as steady as I thought. Or I jostled it a tiny bit, enough to register on Venus but not the much dimmer satellite dish.
Speaking of dimmer, though….wow, nothing like a conjunction to remind you just how much brighter Venus is than, well anything else in the night sky except the moon.
I’ve been watching Venus and Mercury move toward and away from each other over the past week and a half as I leave the office, when I’ve had a clear view anyway. Tonight I caught a different view of the pair of planets, framed by the almost-bare branches of a tree.
I walked out of the office building this evening and just stopped. There, framed by the treetops along the street and the awning and wall of the next building over, was clearly Venus, which I hadn’t seen in months (since the last time it was visible in the evening), and below it a pinprick that, unless I’m mistaken, was Mercury (which I’ve only ever seen on a handful of occasions). It’s certainly in the right place, and I waited to see if either light would move (there’s an airport literally across the street) before deciding that they were both planets.
A few minutes earlier, Mercury would have been too faint. A few minutes later, it would have been below the trees. Not long after that, Venus would have been too low to see as well.
Update! The next two nights were too cloudy to see anything, but Friday evening I was able to spot them again! You can really see how much Mercury has moved relative to Venus in just three days.
Update 2! And here’s the view the following Tuesday, one week after the first shot. I had to move to the left a few feet since they were behind the building now, which is why the light pole is visible this time. In retrospect, I wish I’d snapped it in all three shots, because that way I’d be able to make sure I was presenting them all at the same zoom level. I’ve been eyeballing it, and I think it’s close enough to get the idea across.
Last night I had a perfect view of the conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, but only a phone. Tonight I had a more obstructed view, but I think the power lines ended up making it a bit more interesting than a plain photo with this camera would have been.
It’s also astonishing how quickly Mercury moves. No wonder they named it after the god of speed.