Venus and Jupiter

Andrew Fazekas

for National Geographic News

Published March 13, 2012

This Thursday evening, look to the western skies as Jupiter and Venus—the two brightest planets to the unaided eye—stage a close encounter over the Northern Hemisphere.

Though the two planets will appear to converge all this week, they’ll be at their closest March 15—separated by only 3 degrees in the sky, or the width of two fingers at arms’ length.

When two worlds seem to line up in the sky, it’s called a conjunction. But the apparent proximity is an optical illusion—in reality, Venus is nearly 75.9 million miles (122 million kilometers) distant from Earth, and Jupiter sits about seven times farther away at 524 million miles (844 million kilometers) from Earth.

Visible throughout the Northern Hemisphere, this week’s sky show lasts for more than four hours after sunset, before the planets themselves sink below the horizon.

“While such conjunctions are without any particular scientific value, and we don’t believe the planets control our lives any more, they are nevertheless beautiful and easy to see,” said Geza Gyuk, astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois.

In addition, “what is a bit special about this one is that it is so high up in the sky, away from the setting sun. Mars will also be in the sky on the other side, in the east.”

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