Around mid-February 2019, get up before sunrise to view the dazzling planet Venus and much fainter planet Saturn near each other in the east before sunup. February 18 is the date of their actual conjunction, but they’re noticeable already, low in the dawn sky. Also, they lie beneath another planet, very bright Jupiter. Want to know more precisely when dawn’s first light (or the beginning of astronomical twilight) comes for your location? Click here and remember to check on the astronomical twilight box.
At their conjunction on Monday, the 18th, Venus will pass 1.1 degrees north of Saturn (about the width of your little finger at an arm’s length). Have binoculars or a low-powered telescope? These two worlds are so close together on the sky’s dome that they’ll fit inside a single field of view.
If you get up late – and dawn is rising – you might catch Venus in the glow of dawn, but not Saturn. If that happens aim your binoculars at Venus to view Saturn in the same field of view. Will you see Saturn’s rings with binoculars? No. You need a telescope to view the rings, but even a very small one will do.
If you get up before dawn, you should have no problem spotting Saturn near Venus with the eye alone. Both are bright planets! But Venus is much, much brighter.
Of course, Venus and Saturn are not truly close together in space, but rather, reside on nearly the same line of sight. Venus is an inferior planet – orbiting the sun inside Earth’s orbit. Saturn, on the other hand, is a superior planet – orbiting the sun outside of Earth’s orbit.
Saturn, the sixth planet from the sun, is the farthest world that we can easily see with the unaided eye. At present, Saturn resides 10.76 times Venus’ distance from Earth, at 10.76 astronomical units (one astronomical unit = one sun-Earth distance). Venus, the second planet from the sun, now lies one astronomical unit from Earth.
Venus shines much more brilliantly than Saturn does in our sky. Although Saturn shines as mightily as a 1st-magnitude star, Venus ranks as the third-brightest celestial body to light up the heavens, after the sun and moon. Venus presently outshines Saturn by about 80 times. In fact, Venus is so dazzlingly bright that some sharp-sighted people can even see this world in a daytime sky.
But let us not forget the king planet Jupiter, which is the fourth-brightest celestial body to adorn the heavens, after the sun, moon and Venus. All these planets – Venus, Jupiter and Saturn – will continue to light up the morning sky for many months to come. Jupiter and Saturn will climb upward, away from sunrise, while Venus will sink in the other direction, toward sunrise.
And – by the way – if you’re not one for getting up early, try spotting Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, after sunset.
Bottom line: Watch the great sky show before daybreak February 18, 2019, as the planets Venus and Saturn come to conjunction beneath Jupiter in the east before sunup.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.