Tonight the two brightest planets in the sky will be almost exactly 3° apart. Jupiter will be shining at a brilliant -2.1 magnitude, even that will be outshone by Venus at an even more brilliant -4.3 magnitude. At 3° separation the pair will fit together in the field of a pair of binoculars or a rich-field telescope. If you miss tonight the pair will remain close for several nights, only 3°11′ apart tomorrow night, and 3°34′ apart on March 15th.
Take a look, it will be hard to miss these two brilliant planets high in the evening sky.
It is possible to see planets in the daytime. Both Jupiter and Venus are bright enough to see fairly easily in full daylight if conditions are right. You need to know where and how to look, but once glimpsed they are fairly easily seen. It is the knowing how that makes it possible. Try these simple hints…
Try when the planets are far from the glare of the Sun, in the first hours after dawn or last hours of the day are best.
Clean air is necessary. If the air is hazy, dusty or smoggy it will hide the planets from view, particularly when near the Sun. There will just be too much solar glare to pick out the planet. For the same reason try when the planet is high in the sky and you are looking through much less air.
The human eye will relax and defocus if there is nothing to focus on. This happens when looking at a plain expanse of blue sky. You could be looking right at the planet and not see it. A few puffy clouds around, or better yet, the Moon, will give the eye something to focus on, allowing the planet to be easily seen.
Put the Sun out of sight to reduce glare. Simply position yourself in the shadow of a tree or building to get a better view.
Pick a day when the Moon is near the object you are looking for, it will provide a simple signpost to the correct location.
It is this last hint that can be particularly useful today. Venus is about 4° degrees south of the Moon this afternoon. If you can find the Moon in the late afternoon check just below it and to the left for Venus. The planet will be about a eight lunar diameters away from the Moon, seen as a bright star-like object. Tomorrow it will be Jupiter’s turn, and you can try again to see a planet in the daytime.
Yesterday saw the Moon near Venus, tonight will see the pair even closer. It will be hard to miss the bright pair only 5° apart. Venus will be shining brilliantly at about -4.2 magnitude next to a 17% illuminated Moon. Jupiter can be seen 16° above the pair. Mercury is visible just above the sunset.
A nice lineup of three bright planets will be forming in the sunset over the next couple weeks. There will be three bright planets, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter, and a faint planet in the lineup, Uranus. Together they will nicely outline the ecliptic in the evening sky.
Tonight you can see this lineup taking shape, looking low, just above the glare of the setting Sun you might pick out Mercury. It is only 10° from the sun this evening, but getting higher each day. High above, Venus and Jupiter can not be missed, Venus at about 40° elevation at sunset, with Jupiter even higher at 60° elevation. Venus shines much brighter than Jupiter at about -4.2 magnitude while Jupter is only -2.3 magnitude. Uranus is hiding about halfway between Mercury and Venus at a mere 5.9 magnitude.
Over the next two weeks Mercury will climb higher, reaching maximum elongation on March 5th. At the same time Jupiter and Venus will draw closer, having a separation of about 9° on the 5th. The pair will be closest on March 13th, at about 3° separation. As March slips by, Mercury will drop back into the Sun’s glare and Jupiter and Venus will separate once again. Still, the bright pair dominating the evening sky through much of the month.
While the lineup is still prominent, the Moon will swing through the alignment from February 22nd to the 27th. On February 22nd a 1.8% illuminated Moon will pair up with Mercury, just 6° away. On the 24th and 25th the Moon will sidle up to Venus, under 5° away on the 25th. On the 26th the Moon will be near Jupiter, with under 4° away and 25% illuminated.
One last dance of the alignment will occur on March 25th when a crescent Moon will join Jupiter and Venus. The planets will be about 10° apart with a 11% illuminated Moon in between them. A very nice trio indeed.
Late February and much of March will be a nice show for sky watchers. Make a point to get out and look!
Over the next few night Venus will pass very close to Uranus. The pair will be close for about five days, around 2° or less from the 7th to the 11th. It is on the 9th that the closest approach will occur with the pair separated by a mere 19 arc-minutes, about 1/5th of a degree and well within the same medium power telescopic field. This a is chance to find the ice-giant with relatively little effort, there will be no nearby bright stars to confuse with the 5.9 magnitude Uranus. At high magnification both planets will be seen as disks, Venus 16 arc-seconds across, and Uranus a bit over 3 arc-seconds across. Venus is now far enough between the Earth and the Sun to become somewhat gibbous, being about 70% illuminated.
This evening a nice crescent Moon will join Venus in the dusky sky. The pair will be reasonably close, about 8° apart. Venus is currently shining very brightly at about -4.1 magnitude, contrasting nicely with a 9% illuminated Moon. The two will still be close tomorrow, about 9° apart with the Moon 15% illuminated.
Venus will pass about one degree from Neptune on January 12th. The two will be quite close for several days, under 3°, from the 10th to the 15th, with close approach on the 12th. As the two are located high in the evening sky they are well placed for observation. This is an opportunity to find the distant ice giant with no difficulty at all. A telescope is required to see Neptune, at about 8th magnitude Neptune is about 60,000x dimmer than Venus shining at -4 magnitude. Check a chart for proper identification, there are several moderately bright stars in the region to confuse with the dim planet. On the 12th, a 6.9 mag star will directly between the two. The odd green-blue color of Neptune should help distinguish the planet.
Last night the Moon and Venus were a mere 2.5° apart. I tried to look for the pair after sunset, but all I was able to see was a dim glow in the clouds. My friend Maureen was luckier, she was able to catch the pair through a gap in the clouds while the same clouds were lit up by the sunset. I am just a little jealous…