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Venus and Jupiter

May 9, 2011

The two brightest objects in the night sky after the Moon line up like a pair of celestial headlights in the eastern sky the next couple of mornings. Unfortunately, though, they're not exactly in the night sky -- they're immersed in the morning twilight. Still, they're so bright that if you have a clear horizon, you should be able to pick them out.

The brighter of the two is Venus, the dazzling "morning star." Tomorrow, fainter Jupiter stands to its left.

Although they look a lot alike, there's not really much resemblance between the two worlds.

Venus is a ball of rock that's about the same size as Earth. It shines so brightly because it's close by, and because it's topped by an unbroken blanket of clouds. They reflect more than half of the sunlight that strikes them.

Jupiter is much farther than Venus, but it's also much larger -- about 10 times Venus's diameter. It is a big ball of gas. But like Venus, it's wrapped in bright clouds.

Venus and Jupiter are headed in opposite directions. Jupiter is pulling away from the Sun as seen from Earth, so it's moving higher into the sky each morning. Venus is dropping toward the Sun. So after tomorrow, the two worlds will quickly pull apart, with Jupiter above Venus.

And while you're looking at Venus and Jupiter, look for a third world that's close by. Mercury is to the lower right of Venus, very low above the horizon. Binoculars will help you pluck it from the waxing twilight.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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