The “Venus & Jupiter” Show

Anyone looking southwest in evening twilight as November turns to December will witness a close pairing of the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter. On November 30th and December 1st they’ll be separated by only 2° — about the width of your finger held at arm’s length.

Looking southwest in twilight
Don't miss the best naked-eye sky spectacle of the year! (These scenes are always drawn for the middle of North America. European observers: move each Moon symbol a quarter of the way toward the one for the previous date. In the Far East, move the Moon symbols halfway. For clarity, the Moon is shown three times actual size.)
And on the evening of December 1st, skywatchers in the Americas will see the crescent Moon joining the two planets to make a remarkably compact celestial triangle. It’s sure to turn heads.

The illustration at right shows the scene. (Reload or click here if no illustration is visible.) It's plotted for observers in the middle of North America (and the alignment of the Venus-Jupiter pairing is exact for December 1st), but it’s close enough to give a good idea of how the scene will look from anywhere in North America on the evenings in question.

Although the three objects appear close together, appearances in astronomy are deceiving. The Moon is only 252,000 miles away, less far than you may have driven in your lifetime. Right now Venus is 370 times farther away, at 94 million miles. And Jupiter, at 540 million miles, is nearly six times farther than Venus.

Facing southwest in late twilight
By Friday the 5th Jupiter and Venus have drawn 5° apart, about three finger-widths at arm's length.
If the sky is cloudy for this event, don't despair. Venus and the crescent Moon will have another spectacular twilight pairing (though without Jupiter) on December 31st, New Year's Eve.

This week's planet conjunction marks the second time this year that Venus and Jupiter have mimicked a brilliant "double star" in our sky. Back on February 1st, they appeared together in the eastern sky before dawn. At that time they nestled even closer together — only ½° apart.

The last time these two planets were paired in the evening sky and easily seen was September 2005, when they appeared about 1½° apart. They won't be this close together and well placed for evening viewing again until May 2013 (1° apart).

Special Treat for Europeans

Venus's path behind Moon
On December 1st, the apparent path of Venus behind the crescent Moon depends on your location in Europe.
S&T: Gregg Dinderman
Across much of Europe, even people who never normally look up should watch the western twilight on Monday evening, December 1st. The Moon will be right next to Venus and Jupiter. But the real show happens when the Moon's dim, earthlit edge occults (covers) dazzling Venus itself. The second act happens roughly an hour or more later, when Venus reemerges into view from behind the crescent's bright edge.

At locations where the twilight sky has darkened enough, all you'll need are your eyes. But binoculars or a telescope will give a much grander view — and will also allow you to watch the occultation where it happens in a bright sky, even before sunset. Actually, with Venus a full 43° from the Sun, you may be able to pick it up in daylight with your unaided eye, depending on the clearness of the air.

Venus will appear small and gibbous in a telescope, 69% sunlit and 17 arcseconds across (a hundredth the diameter of the Moon). Because of Venus's significant angular size, its disappearance and reappearance will each be gradual, taking 30 seconds or more.

20 thoughts on “The “Venus & Jupiter” Show

  1. Ray Solomon

    On Thanksgiving evening around 4:30 pm, just before the sun was going down, I looked up to the sky as I always do every evening and I saw Venus and Jupiter shining brightly like white color diamonds through the partly cloudy southwest sky in daylight.

    I did not see the moon, but it could have easily been covered by clouds.

    Ray Solomon in Tempe, AZ

  2. Fhernanda

    I’m from mexico and on thanksgiving day I saw them. It was beautiful, I hope to catch them tomorrow cause now is really clody arround here. My aunt said it was a smiley face, I wanna see it. Thanks for the information, this is a lovely sky event.

  3. Paul Riherd

    This was a really beautiful sight form the balcony of my office here in downtown Bangkok. Luckily there were no clouds tonight and even the bright lights and air pollution wewre not enough to diminish it. A great sight to share with my work colleagues.

  4. Jacques Millet

    On the Internet, there are sites that give where the sun is setting or rising and others have controllable webcams so, yesterday I looked at different webcams but most had cloudy skies, but at the end of the evening (for me) the sky was clear in Arizona and, lo and behold! Venus, Jupiter and the Moon where visible just before the crescent disappeared in low clouds on the horizon.
    I wish I could find webcams better adapted to astronomy but my search has been disappointing up to now.

  5. Richard

    I was able to see the two planets clearly, low in the SSW sky. Their alignment was somewhat more vertical than the diagram above. My location is Long Island, NY, USA.

  6. Mirella

    I’m at home right now and I just looked ouside the window and saw this beautiful sight: the crescent Moon with Venus and Jupiter very bright. I didn’t know the conjunction was going to happen, but being an skywatcher amateur (if that even exists), I could recognize that those were no stars, but planets. Venus I’d already seen other times, but seeing Jupiter too is just fantastic! I live in Brasilia, Brazil, in an apartment right in the middle of the city, so the stars are very hard to see, because of the city lights, but the conjunction is very clear!
    It’s really, really beautiful.

  7. Melanie

    It’s me again. I just came inside from a nice long look at the conjunction. It’s so beautiful!! It was very cloudy for most of the afternoon and I was really upset because I didn’t think it would clear up in time, but God pushed all the clouds away at the last minute! It just goes to show that He can make even the very laziest clouds all disappear. What a miracle! =D

  8. Kehinde

    I have been keeping an eye on the planets over the past few weeks and observed how they gradually came closer and closer. This evening’s view left me in awe. The presence of the crescent moon was like icing on the cake.

    Kehinde, Daytona Beach FL

  9. Koos van Zyl

    I was in the sweet spot, near Amsterdam, with the prospect of watching the entire Venus occultation happening after sunset. It was not to be, with solid 100% cloudcover. I’ve only seen a Venus occultation once – mid-January from Cape Town, when comet McNaught made the occultation even more special.

  10. ANANT

    Yesterday,on 1st Dec 2008,at about 7.00 t0 8.00pm in India, Mumbai it was a show of “Smiley” in soth west corner.Jupiter and Venus with the smiling facce of moon was alovely scene. It was possible to know it from the site skyand telescope.A smiling evening on the background of “MUMBAI BURNING”
    Anant Ashtekar
    Mumbai, India

  11. Andrew

    Well I dragged the kids out and we saw the close conjuntion of the moon, venus, and jupiter. It was a pretty cool.

    My question though is when will this happen again?

  12. Brooks Parmelee

    I’m so accustomed to lousy weather obscuring eclipses and other transitory events that I don’t generally take note of what’s coming up, so I didn’t know this conjunction was coming. I was in the middle of grilling some short-ribs in my chilly New Haven backyard when I looked up and was transfixed. The sky was as clear as it ever gets here and I got so excited about taking pictures of the conjunction that by the time I got back to the grill all I had left were little black crunchy things. I ate them anyway, and they tasted just great. (I even got a couple nice sharp shots, even though my tripod was out of action. Great night!)

  13. Merv

    Great spectacle although from my part of the world (Christchurch, New Zealand) your diagram is upside down.

    Got some photos on 2 December at 9:44 pm NZ Daylight time but haven’t worked out how to upload them to this blog

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