National Geographic
Menu

Planets Line up at Dawn this Weekend

While last week’s transit of Venus was the last in our lifetime, we can still enjoy the company of goddess of love as it now begins its rein in our morning skies.

As an added bonus this weekend from June 16th to the 18th, lining up in the sky with Venus will be two other super-bright beacons at dawn – the king of all planets, Jupiter and the Moon.

While both Venus and Jupiter were the main attractions just a few short months ago in the evening skies they both underwent what astronomers call a conjunction with the Sun within the last few weeks – where each planet lined up with Earth and the Sun.  From our vantage point here on Earth, while Venus went in front of the Sun,  Jupiter hid behind it.

A picture of the 2012 transit of Venus, as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

But now both planets are quickly emerging from the glare of the Sun and they have switched from evening to morning sky objects.

At mid-June both planets will be still be fairly low in the eastern sky at dawn and a pair of binoculars will help you hunt them down – but they should begin to be easy naked eye star-like objects very soon. Acting as great guidepost and adding to the cosmic spectacle, the razor-thin Moon will approach Jupiter on the morning of June 16, positioning itself about 6 degrees to the planet’s upper right.  Then by nexct morning, on June 17th,  the crescent satellite will snuggle up close to the gas giant.  The pair will look exquisite together – separated by about 1 degree – equal to the width of your thumb at outstretched arm length.

As an added challenge for binocular and telescope users scan above the solar system pair and spy a real deep sky treasure – Pleiades star cluster. This jewel of the constellation Taurus is stellar nursery about 400 light years away!

By June 18th it will be a real challenge to find the super-thin crescent moon as it quickly sinks closer to the eastern horizon. You will find it hanging to the lower left of Venus less than 30 minutes before sunrise. Again binoculars will be of immense help scanning the horizon to find silvery Luna hidden in the glow of the Sun – but what a sight!

As the month progresses Venus and Jupiter will continue to rise higher  in the eastern morning sky making them much easier naked-eye targets. Within a week after the transit Venus began rising in the east about 15 minutes before the Sun,  this weekend that viewing window will have increased to 45 minutes, and by the end of the month Venus rises nearly 2 hours before the Sun.

While these distant worlds present themselves as star-like objects to the unaided eyes, the best views of both worlds will be through telescopes. Especially dramatic will be how Venus transforms its appearance, growing in size and brightness in the sky over the next few weeks.

 

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.