If you’ve been out after dark recently, you've probably noticed a superbright “star” shining in the southwest. That’s actually Venus, often called the “Evening Star” by stargazers, and it has only recently been visible after spending much of 2019 as a pre-sunrise “Morning Star”. A bright Venus is always great to see, but the real highlight comes this Sunday when it appears to pass the giant planet Jupiter in a moonless twilight sky.
When is the best time to see Venus and Jupiter?
Look for these planets on November 24 about 45 minutes after sunset, when twilight has set in and the sky is dark enough for Venus and Jupiter to dominate. Sunset is at 4:33 p.m. in New York, and it’s at 4:45 p.m. in Los Angeles, but you should check the exact time of sunset for your location.
Where can you see Venus and Jupiter?
Look to the southwest to see this special celestial show. You’ll find the planets about 7° above the horizon, so it might be wise to get up somewhere high with a good, clear view to the southwest. Venus will be just 1.4° to the lower left of Jupiter. That’s very close—it's about the size of the width of a finger if you outstretch your hand and close one eye.
Why are Venus and Jupiter so close together?
In reality, they are not close together at all. Their location appears to change every night because of their orbit around the sun. We don’t see complete orbits of planets because we’re on an orbit around the sun ourselves—our location in space is constantly changing, and so is our line of sight to each planet. The apparent closeness of inner planet Venus and outer planet Jupiter is little more than an optical illusion.
Will they appear close together all week?
Yes, but Sunday, November 24 is the best time to look because that’s the closest “conjunction”— the astronomical term for when planets appear to be close together in the sky, as observed from Earth. Although they will appear to be reasonably close to each other all week after Sunday, they'll appear to drift significantly by Friday. For example, on Monday, the two planets will be 2° apart, on Tuesday 2.8°, and on Wednesday 3.7°. Because they will be the two brightest planets in the sky, the entire event should be visible, given clear skies.
When will this happen again?
Venus-Jupiter conjunctions happen relatively often. The two planets appeared to be 2.5º apart in the pre-dawn sky back on January 22, 2019, though there are no close conjunctions of the two planets happening in 2020. The next close planet pairing is on December 11, when Venus and Saturn will be just 1.8º apart, though a much rarer event is set for December 21, 2020, when giant planets Jupiter and Saturn will appear to be super-close in the early evening night sky. A similar event (where two outer planets appear close together in the night sky) won’t happen again until 2040.