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Jupiter and Venus shine together like jewels in the night sky

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Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist, theweathernetwork.com

Monday, August 18, 2014, 3:33 PM - The planets Jupiter and Venus - the biggest and the brightest, respectively - reached a close conjunction on the morning of Monday, August 18, and such an amazing team-up wasn't to be missed by astronomers, professional and amateur alike. In fact, since this is the closest planetary conjunction of the entire year, between two planets that regularly provide awesome spectacles on their own, it meant that the cameras were definitely coming out to capture the event.

A 'conjunction' in astronomy basically means that objects (planets or planets and the Sun) in our sky come very close together or even appear to touch. However, that's specifically from our perspective of watching them from here on the surface of Earth. Taken from a more general perspective, they don't actually get close to one another, since they're millions to billions of kilometres away from each other (and from us). Conjunctions come in different forms too. When a planet dips behind the Sun from our perspective, it becomes a solar conjunction. Notably, this happened with Mars back in April 2013, forcing the rovers and spacecraft there to take about a month of down-time until the planet re-emerged from the Sun's glare (to protect against the Sun's radiation possibly garbling signals and causing one of the robots to perform the wrong command). Other conjunctions are like today's, where two other planets appear close in the sky, simply based on their relative position in their orbits, as viewed from Earth.

This snapshot from the Solar System Scope website (click here) shows the current positions of the planets around the Sun, and how Earth's position makes Venus and Jupiter appear so close.


Credit: Solar System Scope. Used with Permission.

Now for the best part - the amazing photographs taken of the conjunction, by astronomers around the world:

This is as close as it gets for Jupiter and Venus this year. Due to the differences in their orbits and Earth's orbit around the Sun, they'll pull apart from one another until they come together again next July, and pretty much every year going forward. The big year circled on many astronomical calendars, though, it 2065. On November 22 of that year, Venus will actually come so close that it will slip across the face of Jupiter from our point of view. This is called an occultation, although technically, that's when one object in the sky obscures another. In this case, Venus might be closer to us than Jupiter, but it might not be big enough to actually block out the massive gas giant from our perspective. It might count more as a transit.

Did you go out and see the conjunction? If so, what did you think? Leave us your comments below!

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