Wake up 90 to 60 minutes before sunrise on August 18, 2014 to witness the closest conjunction of two planets for all of 2014. It’s not just any two planets, but the sky’s brightest planets – Venus and Jupiter. They’ll be low in the sky, in the direction of sunrise. You’ll need an unobstructed horizon in the direction of sunrise to see them. They’ll be wonderful! We last saw them together in this way around the time of the planetary trio of May 2013 – when Mercury joined Venus and Jupiter on the sky’s dome. They were not this close in 2013, though. In fact, Venus and Jupiter haven’t paired so closely since 2000.
If you are clouded out on August 18, don’t despair. These two worlds will remain near each other for some days. The moon is also in the predawn sky now, and it’ll be above the planets on August 22. Then be sure to look on August 23 for a spectacularly beautiful early morning scene with the moon, Venus and Jupiter.
With binoculars, you might – or might not – see the Beehive star cluster in the same field of view with Venus and Saturn.
This conjunction is very close for observers in North America, and even better for European observers. Closest approach of 13′ (0.2°) happens around 5:00 UTC, that is, around midnight in the central U.S. (when the planets have not risen yet) and around dawn in central Europe.
All in all, the morning of August 18 – and many mornings surrounding that date – should be spectacular. Venus and Jupiter rank as the third-and fourth-brightest sky objects, after the sun and moon. And there’s so much more to see in the predawn sky right now.
The constellation Orion is visible (and possibly the star Sirius) and can be found to the south (or right) of these embracing planets.
Although Venus and Jupiter reside along the same line of sight right now, these two worlds are not close together in space. Venus and Jupiter lie about 1.61 and 6.23 astronomical units from Earth, respectively. An astronomical unit is one Earth-distance from the sun.
In the days and weeks ahead, watch for Jupiter to climb upward while Venus sinks downward. At mid-northern latitudes, Venus and Jupiter now rise approximately one and one-half hours before the sun. By around September 10, 2014, Venus will rise about one hour before the sun while Jupiter will rise a whopping 3 hours before sunrise.
Bottom line: Enjoy the closest conjunction of two planets – Venus and Jupiter – in the eastern sky as darkness ebbs into dawn on the morning of August 18, 2014.