As a planet moves across the sky there are particular points in its orbit that describe the motion, part of the jargon of astronomy that can confuse the uninitiated. These terms do not represent anything difficult, you just have to visualize what they mean. Understanding the movements of planets across the sky gives a little insight into our beautiful universe.
The terms used commonly here on Darker View are ideas that date back to the early beginnings of astronomy. Those ancient astronomers were fascinated by the movements of the bright wandering stars, the planets. They tracked and recorded the motions meticulously and invented the terminology we still use today to describe those motions.
Superior Conjunction, Inferior Conjunction, Opposition and Maximum Elongation tell any experienced skywatcher exactly where a planet is with respect to the Earth, where it is in our sky, and where it will be in the coming weeks or months. It is all part of the intricate patterns of our solar system that allow anyone who learns to become familiar with the night sky.
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.
Tonight the Moon and Jupiter will dominate the evening sky. They will be close to each other, about 9°40′ apart. The Moon will be a little over 60% illuminated, with Jupiter shining brightly at -2.6 magnitude. Tomorrow they will be even closer, at only 6° separation.
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…