Doorstep Astronomy: Bright Morning Planets

The first week of November will be an exceptional time for predawn skywatchers with a beautiful gathering of the two brightest planets, and the waning crescent Moon will later drop by to join them.

Venus and Jupiter will appear closest together on the mornings of Nov. 4 and 5.

The moment of closest approach will actually come during the early evening hours of Nov. 4, unfortunately when this dynamic duo is below the horizon for North America. They'll be separated by just over ?-degree, roughly the apparent width of the Moon (the width of your fist, held at arm's length roughly corresponds to 10 degrees).

Generally speaking, at least for the immediate future, conjunctions between Venus and Jupiter will come in pairs. The first conjunction takes place in the morning sky, usually followed about 10 months later by another in the evening sky.

Then 2? years later, Venus and Jupiter are again in conjunction, again in the morning sky.

When Venus and Jupiter next get together, it will be in the evening sky late next summer, at the beginning of the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Future Venus-Jupiter conjunctions

The table below shows future Venus-Jupiter pairings in the coming decade.

Date Visible in Separation

Nov. 4, 2004

Morning Sky

0.6-degrees

Sep. 2, 2005

Evening Sky

1.4-degrees

Feb. 1, 2008

Morning Sky

0.6-degrees

Dec. 1, 2008

Evening Sky

2.0-degrees

May 11, 2011

Morning Sky

0.6-degrees

March 15, 2012

Evening Sky

3.3-degrees

The closest approaches between these two planets come during the morning apparitions. So although their next conjunction comes about ten months from now, the next time Venus and Jupiter will appear as close together as they will this week, won't come until February 2008.

After Nov. 4, Venus and Jupiter will slowly separate, but there will still be one more eye-catching sight.

On the morning of Nov. 9, those who arise about 45 minutes before sunrise will be treated to a spectacular sight as Venus, Jupiter and the Moon - the three brightest objects of the night sky - form a stretched-out triangle, the Moon appearing closely above Jupiter.

Imagine the astrological significance that the ancients might have ascribed to a celestial summit meeting such as this!

As a bonus, the 1st-magnitude star Spica and the planet Mars barely miss being part of this assembly; look for them respectively about 17 and 22 degrees below the Moon if the sky is clear and dark enough. More on this morning spectacle in next week's Night Sky Friday.

Basic Sky Guides

  • Full Moon Fever
  • Astrophotography 101
  • Sky Calendar & Moon Phases
  • 10 Steps to Rewarding Stargazing
  • Understanding the Ecliptic and the Zodiac
  • False Dawn: All about the Zodiacal Light
  • Reading Weather in the Sun, Moon and Stars
  • How and Why the Night Sky Changes with the Seasons
  • Night Sky Main Page: More Skywatching News & Features

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Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.