Venus and Jupiter will stage a spectacular encounter in mid-March, as the two planets sweep past each other in the western evening sky. They will be closest on the evening of the 12th, when they stand side by side. This view is about 90 minutes after sunset, and shows the relative positions of the two planets as they move past each other.
The two brightest pinpoints of light in the night sky line up like a pair of celestial headlights the next few evenings. They’re well up in the west as twilight drains from the sky, and set by around 10 o’clock.
The “headlights” are the planets Venus and Jupiter. Venus is the brighter of the two, with Jupiter a little to its upper left tonight, and side-by-side with it tomorrow night.
Although they look a lot alike, there’s not much resemblance between the two worlds. They’re both planets, but they’re planets of entirely different varieties.
Venus is one of four “terrestrial” planets -- rocky worlds like our own Earth. Venus itself is a bit smaller than Earth, but there’s no denying their common heritage.
Venus shines more brightly than Jupiter because it’s a lot closer to both Earth and the Sun, so it receives more sunlight and reflects more back in our direction.
Jupiter, on the other hand, is one of the four giant planets -- jumbo-sized worlds that are basically big balls of gas or ice wrapped around rocky cores. Jupiter is the largest of them all -- almost 11 times the diameter of Earth, and heavier than all the other planets and moons in the solar system combined. That great size is what makes Jupiter so bright.
Jupiter also sits at the center of what’s basically a mini-solar system. It has more than 60 known moons, plus a few dark, thin rings. But Venus moves around the Sun alone. More about that tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
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