- Georgina Runnard
Look at the sky just in time this week and you will see two bright planets in the solar system almost colliding.
Venus and Jupiter are millions of miles away, but appear to collide with Earth.
This planetary conjunction occurs annually, but this year will be much closer than usual.
The same scenario will not happen again until 2039.
Naked eyes or binoculars should be large enough to see them in the clear sky.
After Saturday, the two planets gradually differ.
“It’s very exciting for astronomers, and it’s a great opportunity for people to come out and see,” explains Lucy Green, an astronomer and head of the StarCasters, the Astronomical Society.
What is the combination of planets?
Coupling occurs when two planets appear close to each other or even touch each other in the night sky.
In the days leading up to Saturday, Venus and Jupiter gradually met in the sky.
The actual orbits of the planets are about 430 million miles away, but the apparent alignment from Earth gives the illusion that they are touching.
How can I see?
The main time to see them on Saturday is BST 05:00. But as the planets move slowly they are visible on Sundays and in the days to come.
It is best to look at them east before sunrise at dawn.
The planets are low in the sky, close to the horizon, and obscure mountains and buildings. If you can, find the highest point and find two bright, dazzling dots.
“The two planets differ in brightness,” Green explains. “Venus is much brighter than Jupiter, so when you look at it it’s surprisingly bright. Jupiter is very dim, about one-sixth as bright as Venus.”
The connection of the two hemispheres can be seen at different times of the day and night.
Telescope observers can see when Mars and Saturn form a series of four planets, Venus and Jupiter.
Green says he plans to get out of bed to watch from the UK.
“But if I miss it on Saturday morning, I won’t worry too much,” he explains.
“In the coming days, the two planets will start to look more and more different, so I can see them more.”
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