Dance Of The Planets


Was the fabled ‘Christmas Star’ that drove the three wise men on their journey?

Anytime the night sky’s two brightest planets pass close to each other, it is a spectacular event worth watching. Venus, our dazzling ‘Evening Star,’ has been flirting with the giant planet Jupiter.

In fact, Venus has been approaching the king of the planets, for several weeks now. The two bright planets have been dominating our colourful western sky at sunset and are inching closer and closer together for an eye-popping close encounter tonight. You won’t want to miss this one!

Starting about an hour after sunset, Venus and Jupiter will appear to pass so close to each other that you’ll be able to hide both planets behind the tip of your pinky finger held out at arm’s length. This will be a truly stunning sight! Get the family outside and just marvel at one of the best celestial sights you’ll see.


The two bright planets have been dominating our colourful western sky at sunset

In real terms, the two planets are over 800 million km apart but to us here on Earth they’ll appear to be almost touching. What makes the pair so remarkable is their dazzling brightness and their light is so steady, compared to the twinkling light of the stars. They’ll then gradually separate and sink away into the sunset all through July.

OK, go outside when it gets dark and have a look in the west to check out the planetary dance for yourself. It’s a knockout! Yes, your Smartphone camera will give you a nice but small image. For a better shot tripod mount any modern SLR or similar camera and zoom in. The whole lot should fit in your viewfinder.

Illustration of Venus and Jupiter in orbit

This simulated orbital view of the solar system shows the relative positions of Venus and Jupiter and why both planets appear close together for observers located on Earth. Illustration by A.Fazekas, SkySafari

Venus is the brighter of the two. It’s great to just stare binoculars will certainly enhance your view. Venus will be a dazzling crescent, like a tiny half moon, and Jupiter will appear as a full disc. They will also look great for a few days into July.

Astrologers believe an alignment like this is 2BC was the fabled ‘Christmas Star’ that drove the three wise men on their journey. They would have seen this as a divine message in the sky. What do you think?

Stars and star patterns have shaped our lives. Remember standing out in your backyard as a kid trying to count ‘em all? I did. For thousands of years, Aboriginal Australians have watched the skies above too. This fascination with the stars and the night sky extends to almost all indigenous cultures throughout the world.

Illustration of what Venus and Jupiter will look like in the sky

This skychart shows the view of the Venus-Jupiter conjunction on July 1, 2015 and what the pretty pair will look like through backyard telescopes. Illustration by A.Fazekas, SkySafari

Knowledge of the night sky was passed on through oral stories, art and dance. Aboriginal people trace their ancestry to the beings which participated in these events. Many stories about the eternal dance of the stars above have been passed down from generation to generation.

What then?

After July 1st, both planets appear to quickly separate and sink closer to the horizon. They’ll be lost in the glare of the sunset by the end of the month. Both will reappear in late August as bright morning stars visible before dawn.

But before that, Venus and Jupiter will offer one last opportunity for an amazing photo at dusk. As a grand finale, the planets will be joined by the razor-thin crescent moon on July 18th. The tight celestial grouping will span no more than 4 degrees—less than the width of the three middle fingers held at arm’s length.

Here’s a perfect chance to catch the  three brightest night-time celestial objects huddled together, all in the same field of view of your binoculars.

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