Cover Venus and Jupiter with your thumb
Posted November 25, 2008
Are you often inside all day, not able to get out until after sunset? If so, don't lament missing all the daylight. The early evening sky is giving you a show!
Maybe you've spotted the stars of the show already: two very bright objects in the same direction where the Sun just set. They're really planets, not stars.
The lower one—the absurdly bright one—is Venus. The higher one is Jupiter. Jupiter will be less bright than Venus, but still brighter than any star.
(By the way, if in the last week you noticed a very bright object that was noticeably moving across the sky, you probably saw the International Space Station. Unless it was blinking red, in which case you saw an airplane.)
Bundle up, head outside, and keep an eye on the positions of Venus and Jupiter through Thanksgiving weekend and beyond. Look toward the southwestern horizon (where sunset was) on clear nights between about 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.
If you look each of the next few evenings, you'll notice Venus and Jupiter appear to be closing in on each other. On November 30, the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, they'll reach their closest. Hold your arm out straight in front of you, and see if you can cover up both planets with only your thumb. You'll spot the waxing crescent Moon just to their lower right.
Look again the next evening, Monday, December 1, when the Moon will have moved in its orbit so that it appears to the upper left of Venus and Jupiter. The two planets will have moved slightly farther apart from the previous night, but all three objects will be almost in the same line of sight. This small triangle of bright objects will be one of the most dramatic sights the evening sky offers this year.
Nothing beats the real sky. But if trees surround you, the sky clouds up, or you can't make it outside at the right times, you can still see a simulation of this planetary and lunar dance. One option is to download the free planetarium software Stellarium onto your computer.
You can also visit us at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center for a simulation on the 68-foot dome of our star theater. Come to our live show, Carolina Skies, at 8 p.m. on Friday or Saturday, and ask your presenter.
Venus and Jupiter will still appear to be fairly close on Saturday, December 6, in time for MPSC's monthly skywatching session at Jordan Lake's Ebenezer Church Recreation Area. Dress warmly, and join us between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Hope to see you there!