Venus and Jupiter, the brightest objects in the night sky other than the Moon, are staging a spectacular encounter in the western evening sky. These illustrations depict their changing positions in two-day intervals. Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, is close by as well. These views are looking due west about 45 minutes to an hour after sunset.
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Venus and Jupiter
Venus and Jupiter are heading toward an especially close rendezvous in the evening sky. They’re in the west at nightfall and shine like a pair of celestial headlights — they’re far brighter than any other planets or stars. Venus is the brilliant “evening star,” with fainter Jupiter not far to its upper left.
Right now, the difference in their brightness is greater than average. Venus is just about as bright as it gets, while Jupiter is near its faintest, so Venus shines about 13 times brighter than Jupiter.
Venus is near its peak because it’s getting ready to cross between Earth and the Sun in mid-August, so it’s especially close to us. If you look at the planet through a telescope, it looks like a crescent Moon. But because Venus is so close, that crescent covers a large area of the sky. And when the planet is closer to us, more of the sunlight that reflects from its surface makes its way to Earth, adding to its luster.
Jupiter, on the other hand, will pass behind the Sun just a few days after Venus’s passage, so it’s farther from us than average. At that range, it makes a smaller target in our sky, and it reflects less sunlight in our direction, so it appears fainter.
Still, it combines with Venus to put on a great show in the west beginning not long after sunset. The planets will move even closer together over the next few nights, and stand side by side next week — two bright but unequal headlights in the evening sky.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015