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Venus and Mars

September 1, 2015

Our closest planetary neighbors are passing close to each other in the dawn sky. Venus, the dazzling “morning star,” perches low in the east at first light, with much-fainter Mars not far to its upper left.

The two planets appear so close together because both are just emerging from the Sun’s glare.

Venus passed between Earth and the Sun a couple of weeks ago. At that time, it was just 27 million miles away — closer than any other planet ever gets to us. But now its orbit is carrying Venus away from Earth, so it’s about four million miles farther.

Mars, on the other hand, passed behind the Sun back in June. Right now, it’s more than 230 million miles away — just about as far as it ever gets. But its orbit will slowly bring it closer to us over the coming months. The Red Planet will swing less than 50 million miles from Earth in May. Only Venus can pass closer.

Thanks in part to the different distances, there’s a big difference in how bright the two planets look right now. While Mars is at its faintest, Venus is near its brightest — almost 400 times brighter than Mars. So the morning star far outshines every other planet and star in the night sky.

Even though Mars isn’t much to look at right now, its proximity to Venus will help you pick it out. They’ll stand about the same height above the horizon on Friday and Saturday, with Venus slowly pulling away from Mars after that.

Tomorrow: leading the way.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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