A Venus-Neptune conjunction took place on January 27, 2020. It was the closest conjunction of any two planets this year, with Neptune only 1/12th of one degree from Venus on our sky’s dome. And yet – because Neptune is so distant (the most distant major planet in our solar system) – the Venus-Neptune conjunction wasn’t easy to catch, even with optical aid. Venus was about 60,000 times brighter than Neptune!
Plus, as the conjunction was taking place, Venus was noticeably near 4th magnitude star Phi Aquarii. Many did indeed mistake Phi Aquarii for Neptune. Phi Aquarii, though rather faint, is a good 30 times brighter than Neptune and can be seen by the eye alone on a dark night.
For many of us, it’ll be easier to view Neptune with an optical aid several days to a week after the January 27 Venus-Neptune conjunction. Venus will have moved away from Neptune, yet Neptune and the star Phi Aquarii will remain close together. This dim star will allow you locate Neptune, absent the glare of Venus.
By the way, for all of these photos, you might want to click in and view them larger at EarthSky Community Photos, to have a better shot at glimpsing faint Neptune!
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as an EarthSky.org Editor, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She and her husband live in Tennessee, where they enjoy guitar playing and singing. They have 2 grown sons.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.
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