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More Venus and Jupiter

August 17, 2014

The two brightest objects in the night sky other than the Moon will stand side by side at dawn tomorrow like a pair of headlights. They’re quite low in the eastern sky, though, so you need a clear horizon to see them.

Venus is the brighter of the two. It’s on the far side of the Sun, and is preparing to pass behind the Sun this fall. So right now, most of the hemisphere that faces our way is awash in sunlight. Seen through a telescope, the planet looks like an almost-full Moon. Unlike the Moon, though, Venus isn’t brightest when it’s full because that’s when it’s farthest from Earth.

Over the next few weeks, Venus will gradually drop lower into the dawn twilight as its orbit carries it behind the Sun. It’ll get lost in the Sun’s glare by late September or early October.

Jupiter stands just a whisker to the right or upper right of Venus tomorrow. It’s heading in the opposite direction, away from the Sun. Over the coming months, it’ll rise a few minutes earlier each day, and stand a little higher in the sky at the first blush of twilight. By the time Venus disappears from view in early autumn, Jupiter will be standing half-way up the sky at first light — ready to dazzle skywatchers throughout the fall and winter.

Again, look for Venus and Jupiter in the east-northeast at first light tomorrow. To see them, you’ll need a clear horizon, with no buildings or trees to block your view of these bright planetary headlights.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

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