In December 2020, Saturn and Jupiter came so close in the sky that they almost touched. Now, a planetary conjunction in April will put on a remarkably similar show, bringing the two brightest planets in the night sky close enough to put on quite a show.
The two brightest planets in the night sky, Jupiter and Venus, will perform a “dance” or conjunction in the predawn sky later this month. Astronomy enthusiast or not, it’s worth getting up early to take a look as it will be quite a show. The event begins on April 29th and ends on May 1st, with a peak on April 30th.
Here is the The opposite Guide to Witnessing the Heavenly Event.
How to recognize a conjunction
If you’re not a frequent observer, you can easily pass off planets visible to the naked eye as stars, since at first glance they seem to merge with a starry sky. However, there are two main differences that allow observers to quickly spot neighboring planets.
The first important detail to pay attention to is whether these objects “sparkle”. One of the basic tenets of astronomy is that stars twinkle and planets don’t.
The second thing to look for is whether the object is brighter than the surrounding stars. Jupiter and Venus are the brightest planets visible in the night sky and are hard to miss even in urban areas. While Venus is the brightest planet visible from Earth, Jupiter comes in second and stands out in more ways than one.
How to see Jupiter’s moons
Jupiter has many moons – more than 79 are currently estimated. On a clear night, with a little help, you can see at least three to four of Jupiter’s moons. No telescope required, just something to give your eyes more power. Astronomy binoculars are best, but even with a pair of powerful sport binoculars, the moon will appear.
Of course, a small telescope enhances this sight even more. Depending on its power, a small telescope can highlight some of the bands on Jupiter. Unfortunately, with a small commercial telescope your view won’t be as great as images from spacecraft or Hubble, but this spectacular view is the closest thing to Jupiter seen with your own eyes.
As Jupiter and Venus approach from April 29 to May 1, the two will be visible in the same field of view. Weather permitting, this will allow for a rare view through the telescope.
What is a conjunction?
In astronomical terms, a conjunction is simply two objects positioned in space that appear close together when viewed from Earth. In the case of Jupiter and Venus, these two planets are actually quite far apart in space; Venus orbits the sun about 67.2 million miles away, while orbiting Jupiter at a distance of 484 million miles. For comparison, Earth is about 93 million miles from the Sun.
In their orbits, planets occasionally align perfectly, from our perspective, to create a spectacular show for us to view here on Earth.
How can I see the Jupiter-Venus conjunction?
The planets are best visible half an hour before sunrise. Looking east, Jupiter and Venus will approach each other from April 24th. Jupiter appears to the left and below Venus. Between April 29 and May 1, the two will be very close – so close that they are in the same telescopic view.
The planets will appear closest on Saturday, April 30th, only 0.2 degrees apart. This is almost the same distance as the Jupiter/Saturn conjunction in December 2020. This makes the view very bright and unmissable even with the naked eye. All you need is clear skies and an unobstructed view of the horizon. The two will then appear to swap places in the coming days, with Jupiter appearing higher in the sky than Venus. The two planets are moving further apart as the days go by.
When is the next conjunction of Jupiter and Venus?
If you miss this observation, the two brightest planets will not cross again until early March 2023. Despite being close together, the two planets won’t move into the same telescopic view next year. Another reason not to miss the performance at the end of the month!
When was the last Jupiter-Venus conjunction?
The last conjunction of Jupiter and Venus occurred just above the horizon in the early hours of February 11, 2021, meaning that while there was a conjunction last year, not everyone had a solid chance of seeing it.
How often is the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus?
On a website about conjunctions, Professor Patrick Hartigan of Rice University says that there is a Jupiter-Venus conjunction about once a year. But they are not always in the same proximity or position in the sky. Those in similar positions happen roughly every three years, with three months between events, Hartigan says.
Conjunction calendar 2022
Jupiter meets Mars on May 29th. Super bright Jupiter will get close to the distinctive red planet in another show for early birds. The best time to see the pair is just after 4:30 a.m. EST in the eastern sky.
The next conjunction occurs on December 6th when the nearly full Moon and Pleiades dazzle after sunset. Next evening, December 7th, the full moon will occlude Mars. Simply put, this means that the bright moon appears to be occluding the red planet. This performance will take place just after 6:00 p.m. Eastbound and will be lit throughout the night.
The final event of 2022 will take place on December 29th. Venus and Mercury will have a close encounter, but it will only be visible in the southwest sky for a short time just after sunset. Be sure to look low at the horizon once the sun goes down.
I wish you clear skies for the rest of the year!